A candidly witty and sentimentally daring exploration of female sexual maturation through the lens of a 15 year-old San Francisco native in the 1970s, Marielle Heller’s debut feature film The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015), a romantic drama based on the eponymous graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, depicts Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), whose first foray into sexual maturation involving her mother’s boyfriend presents an unwaveringly bold and originally authentic depiction of burgeoning female sexuality in America’s beatnik, free-love era.
“I had sex today…Holy shit,” muses the zealous, aspiring cartoonist in the first lines of the film as she begins recording an audio diary after becoming possessed by an obsessive desire to loose her virginity, catalyzed by flirtatious exchanges with her mother’s partner, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), during which Minnie confesses that she would like to sleep with him. Minnie’s longings are fulfilled in the starkly juxtaposing situations in which baby-faced Minnie is presented, shifting between the clandestine trysts at Monroe’s apartment during which Minnie desperately attempts to present herself as fully sexualized women at ease in Monroe’s mature surroundings, and infantile gossiping sessions with her friend Kimmie about her salacious interactions with the older man, while she continues to record her love sick ruminations on her accomplishments.
Visually and sonically gripping with the incorporation of animated comic strip sequences and a 1970s period soundtrack, narratively unapologetic with its ambitious depiction of unrestrained female, sexual desire and emotionally poignant in its unapologetic exploration of the protagonist’s internal maturation, Heller presents an intricately complex and faithfully ambiguous exploration of her carefree and risk-taking protagonist. An inversion of roles in Minnie and Monroe’s relationship is presented in terms of Monroe as the elusive, mature figure and Minnie as the eager young enthusiast. After Minnie, Monroe and Kimmie have a threesome and the former two ingest hallucinogenics together, Monroe declares his love for Minnie, causing the latter to come to the realization that she does not share the sentiment, and eventually leaves him.
The dissolution of their relationship is solidified after Minnie’s mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), discovers Minnie’s audio diary and confronts Minnie about their clandestine relationship while asserting that the two must marry, in a twisted and jealous attempt at retribution against her daughter – a development which causes Minnie to flee her home in disgust. Minnie extends her search for self-identity through a short-lived tryst with an adventurous lesbian named Tabatha, ultimately failing to provide Minnie with her desired sense of self-understanding. After Minnie’s return home, she gives Monroe the cold shoulder after encountering him on the beach, cementing the severance of their relations and this tumultuous stage of exploration in Minnie’s life.
The film ends in a clichéd and predictable, yet sensitively poignant reflection on Minnie’s growing awareness that a search for self-love, as opposed to looking for validation through outward sexual affection, is the key to her contentedness and maturation. Heller’s audacious, original and unmitigated portrayal of female erotic desire is presented with a multi-dimensionality and guileless ambiguity that stands out with the mire of watery, teenage coming-of-age sagas.