“I had sex today. Holy shit.”
Set in a vibrant 1970s San Francisco, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a gut punch to coming of age stories that came before it. The film follows Minnie, a 15-year-old aspiring comic artist, as she documents her ongoing affair with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe through personal tape recordings.
While Minnie’s relationship with a much older man is a large part of the story, it isn’t the whole story. Much of the film focuses on Minnie’s relationship with her art — often manifesting in her crude drawings coming to life on screen through kaleidoscopic animations — or her relationship with her mother. More importantly, Minnie’s relationship with Monroe isn’t glamorized. Their first time having sex isn’t even shown. The film cuts from the build up to their conversation afterwards. The film expertly showcases the reality of their relationship: a young girl trying to see herself as desirable in sometimes toxic ways and the sad man who abuses that vulnerability for his own pleasure.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl is a raging spew of unfiltered teenage emotion. Minnie asks herself the same questions we all did growing up: is this what love feels like? Am I an adult? What is it like to not feel sad all the time? She deals with her emotions like any frustrated teen girl would — screaming Iggy Pop lyrics, dancing on her bed with her best friend, getting high and making mistakes.
Minnie is a deeply honest and complicated depiction of young female sexuality. She’s horny and wants to be loved — and she isn’t repulsed by her desires. More often than not, her knowing exactly what she wants intimidates the men around her. She’s too passionate, too intense. She scares them off. Being a teen girl in charge of her sexuality makes the men around her feel weak, which makes her the problem.
The Diary of a Teenage Girl never shames Minnie for her desires, even when the circumstances are problematic. Instead, it critiques the emotional labor forced upon young women who grow up too fast by men who try to consume them — and it never gives those men the satisfaction.
Visit Sony Picture Classics to find out where to stream the film, acquire it on disc, or arrange for screening rights. Follow The Diary of a Teenage Girl on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and follow Marielle Heller on Facebook and Instagram.
Cody Corrall is a film and culture critic in Chicago. They write about queer identity, representation and how media intersects with our social atmosphere.