Based on Phoebe Gloeckners novel of the same name, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was hailed by Salon as one of the most brutally honest, shocking, tender and beautiful portrayals of growing up female in America. Director Marielle Heller unlocks this diary with a richly comedic and deeply personal vision, bringing Gloeckners book to life with fearless performances, a rousing score, and inventive graphic novel-like animation sequences. It is a bold, strikingly intimate account of one girls sexual and artistic awakening, without judgment.
On one hand 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl' dutifully and predictably checks off all the requirements one might associate with quirky film festival fare. On the other hand, it contains some special performances that really shouldn't go unnoticed. While its undying quirkiness might rub some the wrong way, the acting should keep most people interested.
Directed by Marielle Heller, 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl' tells the story of Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley). She's an awkward girl who has a sexual awakening of sorts. The movie premiered at Sundance in 2015. Running down the Sundance checklist the movie seemed to have everything the festival adores: coming of age, sexual experimentation, controversial sexual relationships, quirky animation inserts, a plucky heroine, period piece, divorced parents, and general familial angst. And even in spite of itself it still turns out to be a compelling story given its apparent clichés.
Minnie isn't your normal teenage girl. She lives in 1970s San Francisco with her drug-loving mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) and her hunky boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). A child of divorce, Minnie finds herself growing up faster than her peers. She's on her own a lot as her mother parties and her paternal father isn't around much. She can't help but be attracted to Monroe though.
Much of the film is given over to the complicated sexual relationship between Monroe and Minnie. While Powley is of age, she purposefully looks younger. Here Minnie is supposed to be in high school, while Monroe is a full-grown man. Neither of them can help themselves. Minnie becomes dangerously attached.
Even though the story feels familiar, especially for narrative films originating at Sundance, it's the performances that are the real driving force. Powley is tremendous here. She's captivating in the most awkward way possible. She imbues Minnie with purposeful false confidence. She seems so strong, so sure of herself, and yet she's so utterly naïve. The way Powley navigates the role is one of the true treats of this film.
Skarsgård pulls off a similarly great performance. The tight-wire he walks here isn't an easy one. He's got to be equal parts lackadaisical hippie and lust-driven male. This creates an inner tension that bubbles to the surface in surprising ways.
Yes, the notes feel like something we've become accustomed to in the world of indie narratives. The complex sexual relationship between Minnie and Monroe holds little shock value, because Sundance always seems to find one or two of these types of movies every year. Thankfully, the movie's true strength doesn't necessarily rely on its originality. It's the performances that make this film what it is. Powley is a powerful presence in a small package. She commands the film with her idiosyncratic energy. She's the reason to watch.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a single-disc release that also comes with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. It's packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase that is encased in a cardboard slipcover featuring the same artwork as the case.
The 1080p presentation is solid. It's a workmanlike transfer. There's nothing about it that will necessarily wow you, but more importantly there's nothing that will make you question you're purchase either.
'The Diary of a Teenage Girl' was filmed digitally, but looks cinematic. The image has good depth and doesn't suffer the flatness that many digitally-filmed indies do. Black levels may be a little too light at times, but it's nothing to get overly worried about. The color palette is earth-tone heavy as browns, oranges, and tans dominate the field of vision. This is the '70s after all. With that overall grimy aesthetic skin tones are slightly less natural looking, tending more towards the yellow side of things.
Detail is impressive. Pores, hairs, wrinkles, fabric textures, are all nearly tangible. There's a good sense of fine detail here. I noticed some very faint banding during the animated scenes. There were no other visual anomalies to note though. Like I said, a solid transfer, but one that simply cover the necessities and nothing else.
The same goes for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. This isn't the kind of movie that lends itself to an expansive soundfield. Much of the film's sound is front and center, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. That's how it's designed because that's what the movie calls for. However, like the video presentation, the audio doesn't wow, it just performs.
Dialogue is always clear, which is imperative in a movie like this where characters are constantly talking over each other. Surround channels aren't very lively, but again that's by design. There are some outdoor scenes that feature some decent ambient noise.
An active sub-woofer isn't something that one should expect. Sure, it's lightly bumping away during some songs on the soundtrack, but other than that it's silent. That's about all there is to report. There's nothing overtly wrong with it, it's just that the nature of the movie doesn't call for an immersive sound design.
Audio Commentary – Director Marielle Heller is joined by Powley and Skarsgård. It's not often that you get the director and both of the main actors commentating on the same track. That makes this track one that you'll have to listen to if you're a fan. They offer up some great making-of information, along with on-set anecdotes that add another layer to the film.
Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 min.) – There are three deleted scenes included here: "Domino vs. The City," "Charlotte's Making Dinner," and "Minnie and Friends."
Marielle's Journey: Bringing the 'Diary' to Life (HD, 23 min.) – This is a rather extensive look at Heller's adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner's novel. It covers the casting, the controversial sex scenes, and the characters' motivations, etc. Most of the time lower budget releases such as this don't get an in-depth making-of featurette to go with their Blu-ray release. It's nice to have one here.
Q&A with Marielle Heller, Alexander Skarsgård and Bel Powley (HD, 25 min.) - Jenelle Riley of Variety sits down with the film's stars and goes over much of the information talked about in the making-of featurette and the commentary. However, it's still a great interview that casts even more light on their characters and what it was like making the movie.
Trailer (HD, 2 min.) – The theatrical trailer is included.
'The Diary of a Teenage Girl' may feature a lot of the tropes we've come to associate with Sundance films, however it provides some really great acting that shouldn't go unnoticed. Some were drawn to the story more than me, and that's perfectly fine. The quirky clichés gave the impression of trying a little too hard, though forgiveness is easy with this sort of acting on display. The audio and video presentations are without fanfare, but solid all the same. Taking everything into consideration, it's a recommended flick.