Friday, 31 July 2015

The Diary of a Teenage Girl: NZFF Review

The Diary of a Teenage Girl: NZFF Review


There can be no doubt that The Diary of a Teenage Girl benefits greatly from a star-making turn by actress Bel Powley (last seen on NZ screens as Princess Margaret in A Royal Night Out).

This coming-of-age and sexual blossoming tale is set in 1970s San Francisco and stars Powley as Minnie, who joyfully announces her presence on screen and in life with her opening words "I had sex today. Holy shit."

In among the hazy lazy drab beiges of the 70s, we start to get more of a picture; Minnie's deflowerer is her free-lovin, coke-snorting mother's lover, Monroe (played by True Blood star Alexander Skarsgard) and she is utterly besotted with him and perhaps more importantly, the idea of being loved by him.

With the scales falling away from Minnie's eyes and life opening up to more hedonistic, if not somewhat illicit, pursuits, director Marielle Heller's take on Phoebe Gloeckner's 2002 graphic novel of the same name skirts uncomfortably between the stunning performance of its actors and its rather icky subject matter.

Powley excels as Minnie, the wannabe graphic artist whose idol is Aline Kominsky and channels all the nervous energy as she heads out on this road with pure effervescence. But Minnie doesn't escape the trappings of childhood as she sways from childish tantrums to immature outbursts when things don't go her way - equally, her wisdom beyond her years separates her from both her mother and her friends, and Powley and Kristen Wiig as her mum make great fist of their few scenes together.

Certainly, for Minnie, it's a case of everything being the same, but everything being completely different and with copious voice-over and on screen animations springing up left, right and centre (an occasionally over-used narrative tic to provide more insight, which lost its initial freshness), we definitely get a taste of the blurred perceptions of love, lust and licentiousness bubbling away in her consciousness.

But despite appreciating the confident sexual swagger and self-deflating bluster of Minnie, and the performances of Powley, Wiig and Skarsgard, it's difficult to shake the actual reality of the film - a 35 year old having sex with the 15 year old daughter of his girlfriend, even with the humour and continual looseness of touch with which Heller handles the material.

Granted, there will be self-recognition and appreciation by many over the story arcs, and the frankness of the way the material is handled is to be applauded; however, there's no denying its lack of moralising over Minnie's actions may also polarise some, but there's absolutely no doubting this is Powley's career-defining moment, a vibrant and shimmering turn that eclipses the material and provides a 70s tinged joie de vivre that's hard to shake, long after the troubling story has left you.

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