The Diary of a Teenage Girl is one of my three favorite films of the year, along with Joy and The Revenant. Shot on an extremely low budget, and on the fly in 24 days on the streets of San Francisco, DOTG is an adaptation of a pseudo-graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner that takes place in SF in 1976, about a 15-year-old girl’s sexual awakening. Speaking as someone who lived there in the mid-80’s, I can say that the year is essential to the story, since it pre-dates AIDS, which served as the ultimate clampdown on carefree sex in The City. And, even though it post-dates the free-love 60’s of The Haight, well hey, young people never lose their sexual mojo.
The Teenage Girl, Minnie, is played by Bel Powley in an extremely powerful performance, guilelessly and unadorned. Minnie’s sexual explosion is ignited by, of all people, her mother’s feckless boyfriend, played by the rakish Alexander Skarsgård, in a devil-may-care manner that’s probably not so rare in a certain type of male. The suddenly wonderful Kristen Wiig (so good in Nasty Baby) plays Minnie’s mother, a not-very-nurturing narcissist, who is more concerned with her own self-indulgences than with her own daughter’s welfare.
Minnie keeps both a written and beautifully artistic visual diary, and a spoken one, via her tape recorder, and she regularly consults her muse, Aline Kominsky-Crumb (yes, THAT Crumb). In those diaries, just as she does in the flesh, she lets it all hang out, with so much explicitness, perhaps shocking for her age, perhaps not, that we dare not judge, even if we’re tempted to. And that’s part of the beauty of the film, that it’s non-judgmental, even when we are confronted with the queasy feelings of Humbertian overtones (although, as I remember, 15 was far too old for Nabokov’s anti-hero!). But, lest you start thinking DOTG is about the dastardly plundering of a young girl’s virginity, the bigger picture is something much more exhilarating and poetic – an artistic girl’s awakening to her true self.
Finally, Minnie has one of the great, shout-out-loud lines of all time – “I’m better than you, you son-of-a-bitch!” – [DVD] [Blu-Ray]
DVD Release Date: 1/19/16