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DRE #444020

Film Review

Diary of a Teenage Girl

Can you remember when you were a 15 year old, doing and saying dumb things? It's a wonder any of us survived our teenage years. When we look back we cringe at the stupid things we did and the illusion that we knew it all. There is no lack of coming of age films, but few of them have any appeal to serious film fans. But a near autobiographical novel, Diary of a Teenage Girl, by novelist, painter, and illustrator Phoebe Gloeckner, has just been turned into a wonderful, complex, poignant coming of age film with the same name. The director, Marielle Heller, an actress and TV screenwriter, had never directed a feature length film before this, which you would never guess given its power and insight.

Minnie Goetze, a 15 year old girl in San Francisco in the mid 1970's, lives with her younger sister and single mother. Her mother knows how to party, and does, often. Minnie attends a private school and is trying to figure life out. The format of the film uses Minnie's narration into her audio diary which provides the narration for the story. Her first entry that we hear is "I had sex today!! Holy shit!!" Her mother's boy friend, Monroe, handsome but a real loser, spends a great deal of time on the couch sipping beer, watching cartoons and imagines he will make a fortune in his vitamin business. Minnie's father, now divorced, is distant in every sense, but occasionally connects with his daughter. But when he does it is always as a superior being with not even a hug for the girls. In fact years ago he cautioned Minnie's mother that Minnie was too needy sexually and didn't need to be hugged. Her mother internalized this stupid advice, and Minnie has grown up with a sense of not being attractive or loved. There is a poignant scene where Minnie is naked, looking at herself in a mirror, convinced she is ugly. One evening Minnie cuddles up to Monroe on the couch, and bad things begin. Minnie is flattered by his attention and soon begins to realize the sexual power that women often have over men. Monroe loves the sex but seems clueless about morals or the law. In addition, Minnie's best friend eggs Minnie on to do things that they end up regretting. The story continues with many twists as Minnie tries to navigate life, essentially on her own. She seems to rebound from sadness to exhilaration and back to reality as she sees it. Yet Minnie is determined to be her own person. One of the techniques that contributes to the richness of Diary of a Teenage Girl is the use of brilliant animated sequences that illustrate Minnie's imagination. She is talented and loves to draw illustrations. She is appropriately impressed with Aline Kominsky-Crumb who drew a number of counterculture feminist cartoons and comics in the 70's. Minnie imagines Aline watching her and occasionally giving her advice, sometimes depicted as her guardian angel floating above her. Her name may be Minnie but she is no mouse. Minnie is courageous and adventuresome, and when knocked down, gets up again to fight the fight. We would all be proud to have her as our daughter. If this description sounds like a chick flick, it is not. Heller's film is rich, inventive, complex, and with essential truths about growing up. Male or female, we will all remember parts of ourselves as we watch Minnie.

The acting is very accomplished. Minnie is played by 23 year old Bel Powley, an English television actress who looks like she is 15. Minnie's mother, Charlotte, is played by Kristen Wiig, and Alexander Skarsgard plays Monroe. Cinematography is excellent, and most of the outdoor scenes will be immediately recognizable to anyone who lives in San Francisco. Not iconic tourist views, but everyday places like Golden Gate Park, Alta Plaza, the Sacramento Street library and very identifiable neighborhoods. I loved this film, and actually saw it twice despite it not being my usual favorite type of film: a tragedy with the audience sobbing. Opened two weeks ago at the Clay and screening widely in the Bay Area including the Shattuck (Berkeley) and the CineArts (Sausalito). Running time: 102 minutes.

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