Hot Take: The unabashed sex life of a licentious 15-year-old girl. It’s dark, complex and controversial. There’s more to learn from how the viewer (or reviewer) reacts than the film itself. Being a teenager can surely be a mess and applying that to the story told here would be understated. (Warning: This review is not spoiler free.)
“I had sex today… Holy shit!”
From the first line spoken by Minnie Goetze (played by newcomer Bel Pawley), there was the sense the viewer was supposed to be uncomfortable. It was immediately evident this was more than your standard coming of age film. Within minutes, it is revealed Goetze’s first time was with her mother’s 34-year-old boyfriend. This is all told by the young teen gleefully while the audience has barely settled in.
Things get darker from there. The sexual awakening of Goetze during the wild ’70s in San Francisco is somehow more lewd and unforgiving than one might expect. The mostly positive reviews speak on the film’s edginess and risks. However, while the film takes plenty of risks, the views on sex and love are bitter and filled with disillusionment.
At the same time, the occasional glamorization of an affair between a 15-year-old and a 34-year-old (Monroe played by Alexander Skarsgard) who also happens to be dating the 15-year-old’s mother and the frequent implied reverence of illicit drug use throughout are puzzling in comparison. Not to mention Goetze’s profound curiosity of some topics and complete dismissal of others. Frequently lauded for her sense of self and honesty, never once does Goetze ask herself if her behavior is right or wrong. There are plenty of other questions asked but there are more avoided.
Having never read the book the film is based on, my assumption is these internal monologues are deleted for the sake of time and to make a more efficient (usually more ineffective) movie. What’s striking is how many male reviewers feel this film nails the coming of age story of a teenage female in the 70s. However, being a middle-aged male who grew up in the ’80 & ’90s, the one thing I was acutely aware of was while I could relate to some aspects of the story, there were certain things I could never be 100% sure of.
One subplot of The Diary was how Minnie could not accept herself and her attachment to sex was her desire to have someone close to her to fill the void left by her inability to love herself. A life void of any positive female role model (her mother, played by Kristen Wiig, is a sexually open drunk who is frequently high and sees nothing wrong with her daughter indulging and her best friend is more partner in crime than moral guidepost) is no help to Minnie’s journey to accept herself. Beyond discovery comes acceptance but Goetze’s focus feels less self-discovery and more avoidance.
“I really like getting fucked,” says Goetze in a monologue about halfway through the movie. Overall, this is the driving force of The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Other reviewers see this as “coming of age” and “self-discovery” or even a powerful take on feminism (the film marginalizes feminism as merely “sex is power” to be quite honest). On a personal level, it came across as Minnie’s desire to distract herself from feeling inadequate. There’s a lot of sex in the film. Those moments where sex isn’t central are the moments when Minnie stops running and when she opens up about her perceived shortcomings. In the end, the message is clear albeit lost on most, self-respect and self-appreciation are more powerful than any drug or any amount of sex.