“What’s the point of living if nobody loves you? Nobody sees you? Nobody touches you?”
Coming of age stories usually make for feel good movies. There might be some setbacks and heartache along the way, but by the end, the main character is almost always in a happier, healthier place. But coming of age isn’t necessarily like that for everyone in real life. There’s real sadness and real tragedy and real setbacks that don’t always become valuable learning experiences. Sometimes, they’re just shitty things that happen to people. I guess clear character growth is a story requirement, but it can all get a little clichéd and predictable. Which is why the totally non clichéd and unpredictable coming of age story that is The Diary of a Teenage Girl made it such a great surprise.
It’s the mid 70s in San Francisco, and 15 year old Minnie (Bel Powley) informs us through voiceover that she just had sex for the first time. Cue the flashback to let us know how it went down. Living with her hard partying mother (Kristen Wiig) and younger sister (Abbie Wait), Minnie has developed an infatuation with her mother’s latest boyfriend, the mustachioed Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). Taking charge of the situation, Minnie lets him know that she wants him to take her virginity, and Monroe is happy to oblige.
The two begin an affair, meeting regularly, while Minnie also experiments with boys her own age. Her fascination with sex and seduction only grows as she gains more experience. While Monroe begins to question what they’re doing, Minnie struggles with trying to keep the man she thinks is hers, while also trying to define herself based on her sexuality.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is built around a super icky central relationship, and it never tries to water it down in any way. Minnie might be a little immature in her decision making and thought processes, but she’s assertive and totally in command of her actions based on those ill conceived decisions and thought processes. Monroe is obviously in the wrong by accepting Minnie’s advances, and the movie is clear about that too, while making you almost understand how his character could be seduced by a 15 year old, while not being a cut and dry movie creep.
Like I said in my opening, it’s the totally non clichéd and unpredictable sorry of The Diary of a Teenage Girl that made it such a great surprise. I don’t think I ever knew where Minnie’s story was headed at any given time. There’s no standard story arc to telegraph what’s coming next and where these character will end up. It’s a story so foreign to me and my teenage years, but it’s told and acted in a way that makes it seem somehow relatable.