Diary of a Teenage Girl is the third film I watched this year with the girl as centre of its narrative , the last two reviewed here, being Honey Trap (Rebecca Johnson) and Girlhood (Cecile Sciamma). All deal with the negotiations girls must face in male orientated spaces contained loosely within the cinematic coming of age genre. Diary of a Teenage Girl directed and written by actress and screen writer Marielle Heller and taken from the graphic novel of the same name by Phoebe Gloekner focuses particularly on growing up, and desire and is explosive in the sense that the main character. Minnie Goetze played by English actress Bel Powley has sex on the brain; “I get distracted sometimes, overwhelmed by my all-consuming thoughts about sex and men, I always want to be touched”. The film is set in 1970’s LA, in a hazy, hippy, household where 15-year-old Minnie lives with her mother and sister and narrates her thoughts through her diaries.
The first person confessional, a rights of passage genre trope, is spoken through her tape recorder so that we hear her desire and experiences, no longer repressed and hidden behind writing; “I had sex today- Holy Shit !” This need is also channelled into looking at men, in the street, in shops, almost everywhere she goes, and occasionally into her explicit cartoons which turns on its head the idea that young men think and want sex more than young women do. The real strength of the film lies in its frank portrayal of a desiring girl who also does not fit into the contemporary media image of the hyper sexualised celebrity. Minnie is chubby and unglamorous with a heavy fringe and straight hair, she is awkward and yet still desiring. Minnie is, to put it in more theoretical terms, “sexually excessive” like most young women of her age according to McClelland and Fine, whose study of young women and desire in contemporary America exposes a societal anxiety which results in policing girls’ sexuality into discourses of “prevention and victimization” and leads to restrictions in a girl expressing her desires; “we ask her simply not to want” (McClelland and Fine 2008 p. 89)
“The real strength of the film lies in its frank portrayal of a desiring girl who also does not fit into the contemporary media image of the hyper sexualised celebrity”
Minnie’s problem is her want , she finds her outlet on her doorstep in the form of Munroe played by Alexander Skarsgard who is unfortunately her mother’s boyfriend, another big coming of age theme for girls in which the mother is heavily implicated in the narrative, see also Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold). The boundaries between Minnie and Munroe 25 years her senior, constantly shift from lover to parent and can at times feel creepy and uncomfortable, highlighting the exploitative nature that is often the issue around young women’s coming of age. Yet Minnie is clearly Munroe’s superior, in terms of overall control of her emotions, and a clear reference to the idea that a girls’ sexual maturity is more advanced than that of her male counterparts, she also has sex with another boy her own age who finds her too intense and as a result she is labelled a ‘nympho’ /‘slut’, typical demonising responses.
“a girls’ sexual maturity is more advanced than that of her male counterparts”
Scenes in which her inquisitiveness about sex is enacted in playful, boisterous sessions between herself and Munroe change the dynamic between older controlling man and younger passive woman. When she looses her virginity she takes a photo of herself in order to check out how different she now looks. Virginity loss a central trope of the rites of passage genre, is something that Minnie can’t wait to get rid of, running counter to the idea of virginity as a thing to be protected and according to Jodi McAlister, typically has girls ‘waiting for the right moment’ discussed eloquently on Athena Bellos’ teenscreen Feminism Blog . The film at times allows us in to the messy viscous that is the female body, Minnie investigates her body fluids after her ‘first time’, this is not the romantic narrative that occurs in a fictitious universe of generic teen films, this is the « dirty, marginal, problematic body » that falls outside the « clean, obedient and law-abiding » social body that is a woman (McClelland & Fine p. 91). The film traces Minnie’s decline, this excessiveness therefore is punished, but it never passes judgement, merely observing the danger and repercussions of transgressing boundaries for young women.
This film circulates within the current discourse in the media where young women’s sexuality and pleasure is scrutinised and celebrated in all its clumsiness, this is seen in autobiographical writing by amongst others Lena Denham and Caitlin Moran whose work goes towards breaking the taboo’s around femininity and sexual needs. Female sexuality is being as it were, outed and importantly girls are not “made to seem like freaks” according to actress Bel Powley . Diary of a Teenage Girl was given a stricter UK 18 certificate for ‘strong sex’ than it did in America where it got an R rating which clearly goes against the motives of the film and perhaps indicates the continuing discourse of protection that persists around this issue.
athenabell (2015) Teenscreenfeminism. Available at: https://teenscreenfeminism.wordpress.com/ (Accessed: 5 October 2015).
McClellend and Fine in Harris, A. (2008) Next Wave Cultures: Feminism, Subcultures, Activism (Critical Youth Studies). New York, NY: Routledge.
Women in Film Rating
Bechdel Test: Pass-Minnie and her best friend talk about many things together, often to do with sex with men but also sometimes with women too.
Feminist film Stars 4 .5 –Taboo breaking, this film speaks frankly about sex and young women.