Review: ‘Girl’ shows teen angst from female perspective

Tom Long
The Detroit News

Powerful, exhausting, ecstatic, twisted and unerringly honest, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a rare film indeed, a look at a young girl’s messy coming of age told completely from the young girl’s point of view.

Meet Minnie (Bel Powley), a 15 1/2 year-old-girl who’s just had sex for the first time. As the film opens, she’s walking through a ’70s San Francisco park, a parade of reactions — shock, confidence, wonder, revelation and yes, pleasure — playing out across her face.

When she gets home, she decides to keep a taped diary of her exploits. The big complication is the first person she’s had sex with is 35-year-old Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), who just happens to be the boyfriend of her hippie mother, Charlotte (Kristin Wiig). So Minnie has to keep this a secret even as she wants to share the news — her feelings, her confusions — with the world.

Minnie keeps up her affair with Monroe — she’s the one pushing — even as she branches out with guys her own age. Egged on by her equally daring friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters), Minnie gets even more brazen, then outright tawdry and disgusted with herself.

An aspiring cartoonist Minnie knows she wants things — to be loved, to be touched, to be understood and heard. She’s a classic bundle of adolescent angst and anxiousness who knows she wants to do things, but isn’t sure how far to push boundaries. Is she in love? Is she sex-obsessed? Or is she just breaking free and enjoying life?

The time period and surroundings give her little guidance, and writer-director Marielle Heller, working from Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel, adorns many of the scenes with child-teen animated hallucinations that match and reflect Minnie’s imagination.

But the heart of the film comes from Powley, a young British actress who seems to understand and fully inhabit every urge, quirk, fear and vulnerability that runs through Minnie. It’s a powerful, breakthrough performance, raw yet endearing, that sets the mood for this inspiringly honest look at the conundrums of being a young woman.

‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’


Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language and drinking-all involving teens.

Running time: 102 minutes