Coming of age stories are a favorite of the indie circuit, probably because they are relatively cheap to produce but also because freshman filmmakers are just themselves coming into their own as adults. This has led to an influx of pretentious (…heh) independent cinema that is supposedly rich with the artistic flourishes that influenced the auteur, but ultimately come down to a few comic book sensibilities from their youth. The Diary of a Teenage Girl would technically reside in this camp of genre convention, but it fortunately has something else going for it that elevates it above other coming of age fare: perspective.
Set in the 1970s and based on a memoir of the same name, this is the story of Minnie, a fifteen year old girl who has a crush on her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). When Minnie asks Monroe to have sex with her, he agrees, starting an affair the leads Minnie to question what she thought she knew about sex, love, and anything outside and in between. Before you raise your pitchforks at the pedophilic aspect of this film, yes, the relationship between Monroe and Minnie is sexual and Minnie is underage. However, within the context of the narrative, Minnie is entirely in control of the situation, and Monroe is in no way malicious or manipulative, just a guy who says yes much too easily to a series of really bad decisions.
See, the point of the story isn’t so much that Minnie is coming into her own as a sexual being (though that is also certainly happening) as it is that Minnie is learning about herself and her place in the world through the act of sexual intercourse. She knows that sexuality is a huge part of being an adult, and now that she is at least physically an adult she wants to explore adult existence. This comes in the form of realizing how sex plays a part in her life, what she wants from a sexual relationship, who she wants to have sex with, and how this contrasts with the adults in her life, most notably her mother. This is not a film that is afraid to acknowledge budding female sexuality, which is a much appreciated rarity in a culture that demonizes feminine promiscuity.
As much as I enjoyed the film for that reason, though, a few token indie quirks still rub me the wrong way, though I will admit these are mostly trappings of the genre that I don’t much care for. Minnie is an artist (because in an indie film, of course she is), but the film goes so far as to animate her drawings and those of her idols in colorful juxtaposition to her everyday life. This is a trick that has been used numerous times in other low budget flicks looking for a distinct visual appeal that has become so overplayed so as to no longer be distinct. It isn’t pervasive in this film, but it is distracting when it does happen. Furthermore, the soundtrack consists of acoustic guitar tracks that seem compiled to say “Please buy this movie’s soundtrack album to support independent artists.” It’s obtrusive and really doesn’t fit the 1970s aesthetic the film is going for visually.
However, ranting about my pet peeves aside, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a pretty fantastic film that captures female sex positivity in a way that few films do. I specifically pursued this film for its place on many critical top ten lists of 2015, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is that astounding, I think it is well worth watching and should gather a following purely for its perspective on sex and how it plays a vital role in a young woman’s development. It’s worth it for that alone.