There are so few films about teenage girls. The ones that do exist – and some, like Ghost World and My Summer of Love, are great – are almost entirely written and directed by men. Whilst teenage boys have countless stories about growing up, discovering their sexuality, becoming an adult, there are very few reflections on young womanhood that draw from actual experience, that are written by women, for women. So it’s great that we have The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a film that has a woman in every major role behind and in front of the camera, and as a result is a direct, honest and daring portraits of burgeoning adulthood, in either gender.
Set in the mid-70s, it concerns the 15-year-old Minnie (a fearless Bel Powley), whose recently awoken libido fixates upon her mother’s boyfriend, the 30-something Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), who is only happy to indulge her. He’s taking advantage of her, but this is less statutory rape than it is emotional manipulation – but he’s also taking advantage of her mother (Kirsten Wiig), who is just as needy and vulnerable as she is. This is no cautionary tale. Minnie doesn’t fully grasp the toll that the Monroe is having on her, but she still has her own agency, and she’s still making her own decisions. It’s not even him that she’s infatuated with – she just wants to have sex, and Monroe, with his charm and his openly sexual manner, is the person who is most available to her. She falls for him not because of him, but to reassure herself that she is worth loving. As she says: “I want a body pressed up next to me, just to know that I’m really here.”
He’s only one thread of the tapestry, too – part of what sets Diary apart from its peers is that it’s not small or contained. This is no slice-of-life; it’s a chronicle, tracking her journey from scared, confused girl to young woman, and it moves through its moods and incidents with tremendous fluidity and confidence. Minnie’s journey goes to some genuinely dark places in the film’s final third, and the film doesn’t water down or excuse any of the poor decisions she makes. Minnie’s path to adulthood isn’t easy, Diary suggests, but it is necessary, and it does happen.
And even if it doesn’t happen to every girl, if most’s teenage years aren’t quite as extreme, her feelings and her actions will be recognisable and reassuring to myriads who are never told by the media that their libidos, their wants, and their fears are normal, that look and be a certain way þ one that appeals to men. It’s a film that’s destined to resonate with anyone who’s ever felt alienated by the lack of people like them in mainstream media. So it’s a true outrage that the BBFC deigned to give Diary an 18 certificate for scenes that they wouldn’t bat an eyelid at had the genders been reversed. So I implore you, young teenage girls: get fake IDs, sneak in the back exit, buy a ticket to Minions and go into the other screen, because this film is about you, and it’s for you.