indiewire.com – Girls just wanna have fun. And girls just wanna get laid. Hey, there are no judgments in Marielle Heller’s half-excellent coming-of-age tale, “The Diary Of A Teenage Girl.” Provocative, brutally honest, R-rated formative year stories for females are certainly in short supply, and so Heller’s vividly drawn debut feature certainly delivers in this regard, with a rich and expressively effervescent bildungsroman story. But like so many Sundance narratives this year, Heller’s movie begins to overstate its case and loses hold of its charms in its darker, overlong second half, yet manages some deft navigation of potentially distasteful subjects and tricky source material.
Based on cartoonist Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novels, “The Diary Of A Teenage Girl” is about a sexually precocious adolescent girl in 1970s San Francisco who begins a complex affair with her mother’s boyfriend. The film undoubtedly introduces us to some great new talent: Minnie Goetze (an outstanding Bel Powley) is a typical teenage girl. She’s curious, wants to be loved, and is trying to discover who she is. But the artistic and inquisitive Minnie is perhaps a little bit more sexually curious than most girls her age, and the anything-goes culture around her is certainly not disapproving of this exploration. Her carefree mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) parties and uses drugs liberally with her boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård).
Already enamored with “the handsomest man in the world” Monroe, Minnie’s new normal sets the stage for a fateful night when the two cross the line. They quickly launch into a complicated, torrid love affair where both Minnie and Monroe have to tiptoe around their feelings. Excited about losing her virginity and dying to tell someone about the exhilarating clandestine world of adulthood she’s entered, the wide-eyed Minnie begins to document all her thoughts about love, sex, and Monroe through her art, perhaps dictating far too much evidence into her tape recorder. As you might imagine, it doesn’t end well.
Heller has technique to burn, employing inventive elements of animation mixed with live-action as Minnie uses her burgeoning sexuality and womanhood to find her place. Sharply observed, funny, and textured, the opening acts of “Diary Of A Teenage Girl” are endearing, clever, and intoxicating, and Minnie is completely believable.
As Monroe, the laid back but exploitative dude who begins to unexpectedly catch feelings, Alexander Skarsgård is quite good. Wiig doesn’t have as much to do, but after many frustratingly uneven serious performances of late (“The Skeleton Twins,” “Hateship Loveship”), she nails this role. A particularly hilarious scene-stealer is Christopher Meloni, as Pascal, Minnie’s mom’s uptight psychologist ex-boyfriend who continues to insist upon being a father figure to Minnie and her nosy sister Gretel (Abby Wait). But ‘Teenage Girl’ is for the most part the Bel Powley show. This British actress is amazingly genuine, and the movie rests on the shoulders of her effortlessly charming performance. She anchors the movie and it wouldn’t work half as well as it does without her.
‘Teenage Girl’ features good aesthetics encapsulating the counterculture era, with a cool soundtrack (The Stooges, T-Rex, Heart, Nico, Mott The Hoople) and great art direction, despite the period-accurate browny, mustard color palate. But at 102-minutes, “The Diary Of A Teenage Girl” simply can’t sustain its vivacious nature. Heller’s picture overdoes its “I just want to be loved” theme, and the romantic obsessiveness of the second half becomes frustrating. We want to see Minnie’s exploration of adulthood, and not always how it simply relates to Monroe.
As Minnie’s life begins to fall apart, she starts to use sex as a self-destructive weapon instead of a tool for self-discovery. While that seems fair enough given this particular crisis, the movie begins to take on miserablist qualities common to Sundance, and what began as idiosyncratic and fresh starts to feel more familiar.
Still, Heller is due a lot of credit. She takes objectionable, potentially repulsive subject matter and imbues it with honesty, fairness, and compassion without prejudice. Heller’s film can also be heartbreakingly authentic in its depiction of teenage wonder, infatuation, confusion, and insecurity. Powley’s poised, incredibly convincing portrayal also connects very real adolescent ideas of desire and exploration to the emotional inability to manage the fallout. Perhaps a little editing could have fixed some of the nagging second half issues, and it might have fulfilled its promise of being great and not just very good. Nevertheless, as uneven as it can be at times in its last 15 minutes, Marielle Heller has crafted promising debut that evokes the idea of unlocking the secret world of teenage girls and letting us live inside the special little jewel box, if ever so briefly. [B/B+]
Category: Film Reviews
theguardian.com – Being a teenager is about testing the boundaries, venturing into the darkness and seeing just how far you can go til something bad happens. Knowing that limit is part of what shapes us as adults, and I’ve never seen that process illustrated as well as in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Considering the film is set in the counter-culture of San Francisco in the 1970s, there was ample darkness for a girl to get into.
The movie wades right in with 17-year-old Minnie (Benidorm star Bel Powley) starting a sexual relationship with her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). It carries on far longer than it should, with him egging her on as she’s pushing her away. It’s not helped by her mother (Kristen Wiig) who parties alongside her daughter and tacitly condones her pot, alcohol, and cocaine use, but is simultaneously threatened by her daughter’s blossoming sexuality. Minnie gets into all sorts of trouble all over town, but she keeps coming back to Monroe, convinced that they can somehow make their obviously inappropriate relationship work.
First time writer/director Marielle Heller, adapting the novel by Phoebe Gloekner, does a bang up job with the story, but also offers a fair bit of visual ingenuity. Minnie wants to be a cartoonist and draws constantly, her pictures embellishing the footage in spectacular and subtle ways and her comic strips becoming full-on animation. It’s less whimsical than it seems, especially when used sparingly. The rest of the film has a sort of hazy glaze over it, like old Polaroid snapshots or the best Instagram filter for any Throwback Thursday photo you post from your youth.
But it’s Minnie’s story that is captivating, made even better by a naked performance, literally and figuratively, by Powley. Is it her ill-advised (and possibly abusive) first sexual experience that forms her, is it her mother who fancies herself a feminist but competes with women for men’s attention, is it the drugs, is it her sexually-progressive friend Kimmie (Madeline Waters), is it the 70s, is it underground comics, is it San Francisco, is it just hormones? No, it’s all of those things. And this is the rare movie that realises that individuals are the sum of formative experiences some good, some bad, and some productive in their devastation.
Last week, Alex’s new movie What Masie Knew premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Here are links for some reviews from a few websites.
Here is the first review of What Masie Knew from The Hollywood Reporter.
Siegel and McGehee make a strong move back to conventional storytelling after experimenting with “Uncertainty”
TORONTO — A broken-family melodrama with a minimum of histrionics, Scott McGehee’s and David Siegel’s What Maisie Knew begins from scenes that will be familiar to most viewers who’ve witnessed a custody battle. Things get pretty orchestrated from that familiar scenario onward, but never to the point of unbelievability; the sad tidiness of the film’s resolution (and the way it departs from the Henry James book it’s based on) makes it all the more appealing at the box office, where it should have the broadest appeal of any of the duo’s films to date.
Maisie is a six year-old New Yorker (Onata Aprile) in a position to know a great deal. She knows her rock-star mother (Julienne Moore) is too busy arguing with Dad (Steve Coogan) to pay for the pizza delivery she ordered; she knows Dad tries extra hard to be cute when her nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham) is in the room. She knows Mom and Dad aren’t going to live together anymore, and there’s a lot of arguing over how much time she’ll spend with him. Most importantly, she knows how to keep some of these things at bay — as the adult relationships around her grow more disturbed, she coasts along as best she can, wisely choosing ignorance when Mom asks if Daddy (now in his own apartment, with the nanny there to help when Maisie’s with him) is ever so happy to see Margo he gives her a kiss.
He is, of course, and when he marries his former employee, Maisie’s mother Susanna feels she must compete in the court’s eyes — making her own home just as family-like by marrying a younger man (Alexander Skarsgård’s Lincoln) she hardly knows. The closest thing to an innocent in all this aside from Maisie, Lincoln — a lanky Southerner whose body sometimes seems to fold inward on itself in deference to those around him — can’t help but befriend the girl, a development that (to a perhaps implausible degree) disturbs Susanna. “You don’t get a bonus for making her fall in love with you,” Susanna snaps at one point, making us wonder whether that’s a literal comment, and she has actually paid the bartender to be a prop husband.
What’s more emotionally abusive to a child whose parents have split — failing to show up for days when it’s time for her to stay at your place (both sides are guilty here), or spending your time with her on loud, “he can’t get away with this” phone calls to a lawyer? Steve Coogan’s Beale is an up-front narcissist; Susanna needs her daughter’s welfare as an excuse to make everything about her own desires.
Moore has the most complicated part to play here, as a woman who really believes she loves her daughter more than anything but is blind to what such a devotion might mean in practice. Over and over, she relies on Lincoln to pick Maisie up from school, watch her when a gig beckons, improvise when necessary. It’s inevitable that he will come to identify with Margot, who fills the same role for Beale.
And another thing Maisie knows is to trust the people who actually take care of her — never voicing an allegiance that would exclude anyone she cares for, but eagerly accepting love that’s offered in the form of actions as well as words. In this modern take on a century-old story, that distinction remains the most valuable one of all.