“This is for all the girls when they have grown.”
Director Marielle Heller’s debut feature film, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl,” premiered at Sundance this year, where it received an enthusiastic welcome from audiences. The film follows 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), who loses her virginity when she enters into an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. The character of Minnie Goetze was first born in 2002 when author and artist Phoebe Gloeckner published the semi-autobiographical graphic novel, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures,” which chronicles Minnie’s sexual awakening in unsparing terms.
“I am not unique at all,” Gloeckner recently expressed in an interview. “Hundreds if not thousands of people have experienced this same thing, in some version of it…This isn’t about me, this is about this, and this is about this feeling…The only way to make you understand that is to write that book for you.”
Heller was deeply impacted by the graphic novel and, as she recently told Indiewire in an interview: “I just stalked and furiously hounded the author until I got the rights.” Eight years and one play adaptation later (in which Heller actually played Minnie herself), the ink-etched Minnie (Bel Powley) has come to life and is coming soon to theaters near you. The film validates the experience of countless ladies out there. Minnie’s voiceover narration echoes thoughts and emotions that most girls her age –– and younger and older –– have thought and felt, and here are some of our favorite examples of Minnie’s indelible voice.
1. “I had sex today. Holy shit.”
The film opens on a glorious slow-motion close-up shot of Minnie Goetz’s butt as she struts her stuff through Golden Gate Park on a sunny afternoon in 1976. The first lines of the film are spoken by her in voiceover as she surveys her surroundings as though they have opened themselves up to her for the first time.
“I had sex today. Holy. Shit.” A triumphant smile spreads across her face as she swells with pride, and she looks curiously at the older kids hanging out on Hippie Hill, probably wondering if they, too, had happened to have sex that day. Her jubilation is only momentarily quelled when a bra-less jogger passes her, reminding her of her own somewhat smaller breasts. Who cares about the lady’s boobs! I had sex today! Someone enjoyed mine enough to get down, so fuck her boobs. Minnie skips on home, where she begins recording her titular diary, recounting the events leading up to her sleeping with Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) that day. “This means I’m officially an adult!”
Powley said at a Q&A panel following a screening of “Diary” that this is part of what drew her to the character. “I just felt like I related to Minnie on so many levels, and I just thought it was so special because it was opening up a conversation about female sexuality amongst teenage girls…I think it’s such a taboo subject to discuss young girls or teenage girls feeling horny. We see our virginity as something that is really precious and that we lose or we give it away and then it’s kind of over and then it’s not okay to have sex with the wrong people or have sex with loads of people; it makes you feel like you’re a freak or a you’re bit weird if you have those feelings.”
It isn’t until after she has poured out her excitement into her tape recorder that Minnie pauses for a moment and absorbs the less savory aspects of what has transpired. “I had sex today,” she says again, this time less enthusiastically. “Holy shit.”
2. “I just want to be touched. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
“I just want to be touched,” Minnie pouts to her. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
3. “I didn’t know if I wanted him or anyone else to fuck me, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance.”
Maybe every girl doesn’t go through this thought process in so many words, but at the Q&A panel, Heller recalled having this same thought in her youth. “It seems insane now,” she said, laughing at the backwards logic that Minnie (and her younger self) adopted when it came to areas of sexual discovery.
When finally given the opportunity, Minnie grabs it by the balls, telling Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) straight up that she wants to have sex with him. “Do you really fucking want to fucking fuck me?,” says Monroe. “None of your fucking business,” replies Minnie, avoiding a direct answer since she honestly can’t provide one. To be fair, Minnie does describe Monroe as the “handsomest man in the world” and she thinks he only sleeps with her mother “because he has to.” Thus, in her eyes, she could do worse for her first time.
4. “Sometimes I look in the mirror and I can’t believe what I see.”
She says, standing naked in front of the mirror. Minnie is self-conscious about her body; we know this from her mannerisms and her conviction that she thinks that Monroe wants to cut off their affair because she’s fat. We see it reflected in her first cartoon, “Walk-Thru City,” in which a Godzilla-sized Minnie lumbers about the Golden Gate City, her hairy thighs thicker than the buildings she towers over. And yet, as she stands before her mirror, she seems to almost grasp her own sublime beauty for the first time. “I just realized I’ve had breasts for three full years now.”
The film progresses and Minnie takes possession of her body, navigating its sexual powers and learning how to brandish them. As her mother (Kristen Wiig) tells her early on, “You have a kind of power, you know. You just don’t know it yet.” It is difficult to get in touch with this kind of transcendental power, to embrace it for the force of nature that it is, when you have grown up in a world that perceives you as an object to be judged and pursued by others. It gives birth to a kind of disconnect, which Minnie’s gaze at her reflection embodies. “I can’t believe what I see.”
5. “I want someone to be so totally in love with me that they would feel like they would die if I didn’t love them back.”
Minnie has so many thoughts along these lines throughout the film. Here are just a handful:
“What’s the point of living if nobody loves you, nobody touches you, nobody sees you?”
“I want a body pressed up next to me, just to know that I’m really here.”
“I wonder if he’s masturbating, thinking about me right now.”
“It feels so good to imagine that he might be thinking about me.”
“I wonder if there’s someone out there I don’t know about who’s in love with me.”
During her conversation with an animated Aline Kominsky, Minnie expresses her frustration. “Nobody loves me. Maybe I should kill myself.” But Kominsky reassures her, saying, “No. Alienation is good for the art.” Minnie does work to channel her feelings into her developing painting and drawing skills, but she doesn’t fully overcome them until she gets her wish and a man finally professes his love for her. “He was vulnerable and weak. It was all I ever wanted.” But she immediately loses interest, with the epiphany that the only one she desperately needed to love her was herself.
6. “I’M BETTER THAN YOU, YOU SON OF A BITCH.”
Minnie must undergo quite a journey before she can say these words and actually believe them. It’s a far cry from the initial self-doubt she felt when Monroe casually brushed her boob, fatefully launching their affair. “Even if he meant to touch my breast, it was okay, ’cause he was a good guy and he knows how it goes and I don’t.” Their relationship grows more complex and Monroe reveals himself to be a lovable and confused man-child, while Minnie grows stronger and comes to know herself and her desires, realizing that the answers do not lie in her lover but within herself.
Slowly, she grows weary of Monroe playing the adult in the relationship, keeping everything on his terms, until it dawns on her that the power was in her hands all along. “I knew it,” she whispers in awe as she literally grows wings and takes flight, finally claiming her true, ethereal identity. “I refuse to be a sniveling crybaby. I’m a fucking woman and this is my life.”
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is currently in theaters.