On Sunday, July 26, Indiewire and Sony Pictures Classics co-hosted a special advanced screening of Sundance sensation “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” at The Laemmle Music Hall in Beverly Hills. Since its premiere, the film has generated critical acclaim. It recently opened The Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA’s annual New Directors/ New Film series. Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel of the same name, the story follows Minnie (Bel Powley), who goes through a sexual awakening upon sleeping with her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard).
It’s a one-of-a-kind coming of age story.
You’ve never seen anything quite like “The Diary of a Teenage Girl.” Although there are countless coming of age films, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” stands alone. As Alexander Skarsgard explained, “There are all of these coming-of-age stories from a boy’s point-of-view, where they explore sexuality. Being a teenager is fucking confusing to anyone. I felt like I had never seen that before from a girl’s point of view.”
The film fills a gap in representation.
The film tackles a subject that is not traditionally discussed in the public sphere. Powley explains, “It is so special because it is opening up a conversation about female sexuality amongst teenage girls, which I don’t think people even talk about in day-to-day life. It is such a taboo subject to discuss young girls or teenage girls feeling horny.”
Both Powley and Heller agree that the film is a form of representation that has been missing for far too long. They revealed that if the film existed when they were younger, life would have been easier. Powley drew form her own past and explained how girls often felt freakish when dealing with change because there were no references or open discussions on such topics. The film is a form of representation for teenage girls, claiming Minnie’s experiences are normal and shouldn’t be judged. Powley’s takeaway message from the film was “everything will be fine. It is not as extreme as you think it is.”
“Who is Monroe?”
“I was very intrigued by the character Monroe because it was a real challenge to try and play him in a way so that it’s not condoning what he does, without conveying him as too much of a villain, and to try and make that relationship interesting, so it’s not just him preying on Minnie for an hour and forty minutes.” After Heller saw Skarsgard’s “gentle depth” in the drama “What Maisie Knew,” she knew he was perfect for the role. His performance is a foundation of the film’s success.
The film stays true to Minnie’s point of view.
“Our life rule of thumb, when making this movie, was everything is from Minnie’s perspective. If she didn’t feel bad about something, then we shouldn’t feel bad about something. If she didn’t feel like she was being victimized, then we shouldn’t feel like she is being victimized. I was never trying to have us step out and judge her or judge what was happening to her,” said Heller.
The setting and era make a difference.
The time period prevents the audience from getting hung up on certain elements of the plot, such as Monroe’s age. On the contrary, it allows you to get swept up by Minnie’s story and lost her in mind. Heller pointed out, “I was aware when I was making the movie that the distance of the era helped us. Hopefully, it meant that people weren’t going to come into the movie with a lot of judgment in the way they would if it was just set in the modern time.”
Minnie is universally relatable.
Heller discussed reactions to the films she has received thus far. She was surprised, yet delighted to find that Minnie was a universally relatable character. “It’s not just women who are enjoying this movie but all different types of people have been coming up to me and claim that it really meant a lot to them and that they really connected to Minnie. I love that because I’ve always related to male protagonist because that’s whom I’ve had to relate to. Why can’t men relate to a teenage girl and find their humanity in this character?”
Marielle Heller’s open invitation to join the creative process is key.
The director’s approach allowed her to capture universal feelings. Heller revealed, “Bel and I constantly checked back in with each other. This is what it felt like, right? Is this what you would have been thinking in that moment? We were checking in with our inner compass.” Watching the film, it is evident that the source of the film’s emotional authenticity and ability to transcend the message is the open creative process.