Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

A new movie, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl," has been out in limited release for about three weeks now.  It has earned largely enthusiastic reviews, but sales are building slowly -- $425,000 so far.

Based on a "book in worlds and pictures" of the same name, it is the story of 15-year-old Minnie's first sexual experiences with her mother's boyfriend and then other men and of her drug and alcohol use with friends and adults in 1975.   

Filmmaker Marielle Heller took the book, skimmed over and skipped some of its darkest parts and turned it into a film script with a more upbeat ending that suggests the girl learns from her experiences and by the end has a plan and goals for her adult life.  

The movie is well written and well acted and has very good cinematography. It doesn't flinch in its depiction of 1975 San Francisco, a pre-herpes and pre-AIDS heyday of casual sex and drug use.    


"The novel is life-specific, but what makes (the title's teenager) Minnie — on the page and now on the screen — greater than any one girl is how she tells her own story in her own soaringly alive voice."                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                Manohla Dargis
                                                                                                               New York Times

"In a less complex film, Monroe (the mother's boyfriend who sleeps with the heroine) would be portrayed as a skeevy creep with no redeeming qualities. But Peter SkarsgĂ„ard, a tremendously appealing actor, destabilizes that by bringing a sweetness to Monroe, and an almost childlike dissatisfaction with his life, all of which gets focused on the eager Minnie who latches onto him like a barnacle. The relationship is, of course, hugely imbalanced, manipulative on both sides, and emotionally explosive. Monroe's behavior is, indeed, gross. For Minnie, the revelation that someone desires her almost literally blows her mind." 
                                                                                                               Sheila O'Malley

 "What’s shocking and refreshing about 'Diary of a Teenage Girl' is that it judges all its characters equally and on their actions, refusing to moralize while still allowing Minnie to find her own moral compass. It’s a long process, appalling and touching and, at times, refreshingly raunchy. Heller acknowledges the double helix of desire — of body and soul — that drives her heroine. 'Someone wants me,' Minnie marvels while the affair with Monroe is still fresh. 'Someone wants to have sex. With me.'"
                                                                                                                         Ty Burr
                                                                                                                 Boston Globe

The Author

Phoebe Gloeckner wrote the "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" book and based it on her own youth.  She now is a professional artist with daughters of her own.  

When the film was released, she was interviewed by Whitney Joiner for  Gloeckner acknowledged that her book and the movie have very different themes.  A couple of her comments:

"I had two books, "A Child's Life" and "Diary".  The first one suggests Minnie's background more, and it is not happy.  She's always a child amongst adults, but treated in an adult way and never really feels love.  Maybe that is not expressed in the film.  You kind of don't want to understand where her hypersexuality comes from.  And I'm afraid that it suggests that all teenage girls are hypersexual and will respond at the drop of a pin to you know, anybody doing anything."

"The reviews describe a celebration of adolescent female sexuality. She knows what she wants, so she goes after it. But the thing is, Minnie was quite a virgin and had never even kissed anyone at that point. Maybe it had to be that way, or else she would have seemed like a victim.
    "And it has a really happy ending. It’s implied that she’s getting along with her mother. I think in films you have to have that happy ending or audiences are upset."

Observations -- Book

I read "The Diary of a Teenage Girl."  Its storyline runs from unusual to deeply creepy, but it is interesting at least for breaking new ground. I cannot recall another first-person narration of a 15-year-old girl's introduction to sex, wild sex, more sex and drug abuse.   So much for those namby-pamby adolescent heroines of days past.   

Readers generally like the book, but I am not sure it is destined to become a staple of the American canon.  

This may be a good thing.  Any literature professor who asked college students to read it would need to spend many weeks compiling a voluminous list of trigger warnings about the scenes therein.  Today's new-Victorian coeds who have found Ovid's "Metamorphoses" disturbing would be shattered by events described on just about every page of this matter-of-fact story. 

Observations -- Movie

"The Diary of a Teenage Girl" film, a story about a 15 year-old-girl, has received an R rating (unfit for viewers under age 17) because of "strong sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language and drinking -- all involving teens."  

I saw the movie last week in an early weekday showing.  (I like empty theaters.) I was one of five people in the place, and I was the only woman. 

The other four viewers were middle-aged and older guys, each sitting alone.   Made me wonder if the movie, which reviewers describe as non-prurient and having a feminist girl-power theme, is attracting a different audience than its makers intended. 

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