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The Diary of a Teenage Girl (4 stars)

Berlinale 2015: Provocative coming-of-ager with Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Smartly drawn in more ways than one, Marielle Heller's directorial debut is a high-wire act. Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-graphic coming-of-age novel, in the wrong hands this could easily have become lurid and exploitative, as it delves brazenly into the sex life of a 15-year-old girl, living in 1970s San Francisco.

An exuberant teen, Minnie (Bel Powley), reveals that she lost her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), the boyfriend of her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig). What follows is a major-league affair, as Minnie begins to explore her blossoming sexual appetite with this unsuitable man – a one-way ticket to disaster, of course.

The real find here is the British-born Powley, who makes a similar sort of impact as Carey Mulligan did a few years back in another sexual awakening tale between a teen and an older man, An Education. With her wide eyes and inquisitive face, she's a compelling screen presence, offering a rich, fully rounded performance as Minnie.

Heller doesn't simply rely on straightforward action to tell the story either. One of the film's true pleasures are its switches to animation, which almost leap out of the live-action as if they are literally sprouting from Minnie's mind. Animated by Sara Gunnarsdóttir, 70s style, these sequences add real texture to a film that already benefits from its casually authentic production design and photography.

Of course, the subject matter of an underage girl and her relationship with a much older man is a troubling one, particularly to a modern audience. Yet distance is created by the 70s setting, when boundaries were a little more fluid, and while there's nudity, it's never graphic. Heller captures the era well, and her cast are never less than convincing. Insightful and important, this diary is well worth a peek.

Screening as part of the Berlin International Film Festival 2015. General release TBC.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

  • 4 stars
  • 2015
  • US
  • 102 min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Marielle Heller
  • Cast: Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård
  • UK release: 7 August 2015

Adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel about Minnie (Powley), an exuberant teen in 1970s San Francisco, who reveals that she lost her virginity to Monroe (Skarsgård), boyfriend of her mother (Wiig). Powley is a real find, with a compelling screen presence; Heller captures the era well, and the cast is never less…

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