'Diary of a Teenage Girl' isn’t all pimples and sock hops
by Richard von Busack
For the evocative, if sweetened, adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical novel Diary of a Teenage Girl, director Marielle Heller cast British actress Bel Powley. Powley, 23, plays Gloeckner’s 15-year-old heroine Minnie Goetz. Rounded and fragile, with big yearning eyes, she looks childishly rambunctious as she stands on a hassock or bounces on a bed to admire the details of her room.
Minnie’s first lover is her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), a perfect representative of this certain time and place (San Francisco in the 1970s), when the fanciest men were not expected to do all that much, either in the realm of work or love. The first-person point of view belongs to Minnie, even as all the power in her first sexual relationship is held by Monroe.
It’s scandalous material, but Heller takes the sensationalism out of this not untypical memoir. In interviews, Gloeckner—a memoirist and cartoonist of great merit—has kept busy explaining why the scandal isn’t in the statutory rape; the real shame, she stresses, is in the way the liaison broke up the trust between daughter and mother.
Minnie’s very ’70s, laissez faire mom, Charlotte, is played by Kristin Wiig, and her performance proves again why she’s one of the most important actresses working today. When the cat is finally out of the bag, Charlotte interprets this betrayal in terms of a mother’s traditional outraged decency, demanding that the scoundrel marry her daughter.
Anyone who dawdled through that dangerous time of the 1970s, especially as a teenager, will see a reflection of their own experiences. They’ll remember things they swore they’d never forget, and somehow did.