Perhaps the best movie to be released this week is Marielle Heller’s directorial debut ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ based upon Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel of the same title.
Don’t be mistaken by its title, this is not your typical silly mainstream Hollywood romcom with a ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl and everything ends well’ kind of storyline you can spot from a mile away.
It’s an american indie film with a tone closer to that of Todd Solondz’s ‘Happiness’ (1998) and Sam Mendes’ Oscar winning ‘American Beauty’ (1999) on the one hand and Lars von Trier’s ‘Nymphomaniac’ (2013) on the other, without going to the extremes that von Trier’s film does, even though the film might prove to be provocative for a more prudish audience.
The film is set in 1976 and perfectly captures the seventies atmosphere from the get go, the film just breathes seventies. A masterful achievement of production and costume design which is upheld for the entire film. Brandon Trost won the Cinematography award at Sundance and it’s clear to see why.
Without trying to impress the audience with an establishing shot including a lot of shiny cars of the period, we just see a 15 year old young girl Minnie (brilliant performance by Bel Powley, 22 years old at the time the movie was shot) walking in a park. In a voice-over we hear her say: “I had sex today. Holy Shit”. Shortly afterwards we learn she did not just have sex, she lost her virginity by having sex with her mother’s boyfriend, an excellent Alexander Skarsgård of ‘True Blood’ fame in an risky role. The mother is played by Kirsten Wiig who we usually get to see in more comedic roles.
What makes the film rare is that the coming of age story is told from a girls point of view minus the sweetness and innocence that’s usually associated with this type of story. The film tackles both Minnie’s sexual and artistic awakening. Besides recording her experiences on a tape recorder (the title’s diary) she also likes to draw them, inspired as she is by Aline Kominsky (former partner of that other american drawing legend: Robert Crumb). The film at times combines live action film with animation, but ‘Mary Poppins’ it ain’t. On top the film has a nice well chosen selection of rock songs of the period without opting for the typical obvious tracks you usually get to hear.
The film also has quite a large belgian input. In the opening credits you may be surprised to see the belgian production company Caviar’s name appear. They have opened a Los Angeles office some time ago and have made quite an impressive entry with their first american production. And one of the belgian editors is none less than Marie-Hélène Dozo, the editor of most of the Dardenne brothers’ feature films.