The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Posted by Joel Copling on August 22, 2015

Generally speaking, a movie needs more than a really good lead performance, and as evidence to counsel, I present to you "The Diary of a Teenage Girl," a perfectly lousy character study featuring a star-making lead performance by relative newcomer (to feature films, anyway, and that won't last long) Bel Powley. Her Minnie Getz isn't written well in the screenplay by director Marielle Heller (based on a novel by Phoebe Goeckner), but the character is idiosyncratic enough that the actress is only asked to lend credence where there really isn't any. It's an appealingly frank breakthrough for Powley, and it's wasted on all of the wrong characteristic tics.

It's California in the 1970s, and 15-year-old Minnie Getz has just done the deed. She informs three objects of this: herself, the audience, and a tape recorder into which she will occasionally speak her mind just to get it all out there. She exclaims the two word phrase extolling defecation in response, but there's a hesitancy on the part of the audience to join her in celebration when we learn who the guy was. That's because the man with whom she had her rump in the sack was Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the thirtysomething current boyfriend of her perenially hazy mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig). She believes it's love, we know it isn't, and we suspect Monroe knows it isn't either; the movie insists on living somewhere uncomfortably in a fourth choice that takes all of these into account.

Without Powley, as they say, there would be precious little left. The actress doesn't shy away from some pretty casual nudity and graphic sexuality, which is a positive thing for this character, but the weird, roller-coaster writing of the character doesn't deserve the subtlety given it by the actress's performance. Skarsgard is also solid at portraying a man who is not obviously a predator in the widely understood sense (if still not a good person, at all, pretty much ever); by comparison, Wiig is over-the-top here, and Christopher Meloni is even more so in a brief performance as Charlotte's ex-husband Pascal.

The method with whcih this film approaches sexuality is sometimes surprisingly frank but almost never in an appealing or good-natured way. Minnie becomes addicted to intimacy of a detached, ungracious kind, and the film enters an exhausting back-and-forth between celebrating this young woman's realization of her budding adulthood and condemning her for it. The entire third act, indeed, is one premised on how much emotional suffering she can go through until she cracks, and it's not remotely effective because of how thoroughly off-putting the whole thing is. "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" is not a fittingly hormonal study of adolescence but a schizophrenic one.

Film Information

Bel Powley (Minnie), Kristen Wiig (Charlotte), Alexander Skarsgard (Monroe), Christopher Meloni (Pascal), Abby Wait (Gretel), Miranda Bailey (Andrea).

Directed and written by Marielle Heller, based on the novel "The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures" by Phoebe Goeckner.

Rated R (sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language, drinking).

102 minutes.

Released in select cities on August 7, 2015.