Film Review: ‘Diary of a Teenage Girl’ And Revamping The Coming-Of-Age Story
Finding films that accurately portray the sexual experiences of teenage girls is difficult. Issues of censoring, exploitation, and the general fear of exploring the sexual awakening of girls are common issues that limit their representation as they begin explore sex, sexuality, and more. However, one particular film has managed to achieve this, telling the story of a girl’s sexual journey without coming across as invasive or exploitative.
American writer/director Marielle Heller has released her stellar debut Diary of a Teenage Girl — a revolutionary look at the coming-of-age story, as it acknowledges sex from the female perspective in a way that is honest, comical, and rarely ever explored in film.
The film begins with 15-year old Minnie Goetze (played by 23-year-old actress Bel Powley) declaring to an audio tape, “I had sex today.” What we then discover is that she lost her virginity to a guy named Monroe — a man 20 years her senior and her mother’s boyfriend. Scandalous, right?
Well, not exactly. Instead of making this a story of betrayal, Diary of a Teenage Girl presents Minnie as more of heroine than a victim, and seeks to create a different point of view which focuses on the positivity of Minnie’s self discovery, rather than the morality of the scenario. Instead of telling a tale of a victim and focusing on preserving her innocence, or demonizing Monroe (which wouldn’t necessarily be wrong), the narrative explores a young woman’s sexual awakening, while embracing all the questions, raging emotions, and intense insecurities that can come with it. The film, which was adapted from the 2002 novel by Pheobe Gloecker, is based on Gloecker’s own adolescent experiences, making the film even more compelling as a viewer.
Heller spoke on this further, stating, “If you’re a teenage girl that wants to have sex, there’s still this thing of feeling like a freak because everything you’ve ever read or seen tells you — you shouldn’t want it.”
This speaks directly to me, as I’m sure it does many women who’ve felt guilt or shame concerning their own sexual feelings. The sexual right of passage has always been reserved for boys in society and the media, and this film rejects that idea in lieu of ridding this stigma that teaches girls to feel ashamed for wanting to have sex or having sexual thoughts.
Although Diary of a Teenage Girl is set in the 1970s, its modern approach to girlhood and focus on sexual truth sets it apart from many coming-of-age stories that documents the female experience. It tackles some truths that many movies would never touch (Minnie honestly declares that “I really like getting fucked”) and doesn’t demonize Minnie and her feelings towards sex.
With online discussion of feminism and equality continuing to progress, this film feels important in an age where sex positivity amongst teenage girls is a must. We are beginning to embrace a time where honest perceptions of sex — the way it can make us squirm in our seats, the awkwardness of it all, and all its messiness — is starting to be explored, and the fact that it’s being told from a girl’s POV really is amazing.
The coming-of-age story has always stuck to a repetitive formula, engaging in aspects of love, crushes, boyfriend/girlfriend dynamics, but failing to get stuck into the very aspect which is involved in all of these things: sex. Thankfully, we are beginning to see a change in that, with films like Blue is The Warmest Color and Very Good Girls which showcase a coming-of-age story that encompasses all these elements without cheating viewers out of a realistic story.
There are many people who still don’t understand the importance of these movies yet — as displayed by Diary of a Teenage Girl’s 18+ rating, which limits teenage girls from viewing a film which is essentially made for them. But we are starting to make headway in breaking the rules when it comes to getting teenage girls stories across accurately, and wanting to see positive images of girls who aren’t exploited, demonised or patrionized.
Films that don’t limit girls to sluts or goody-two-shoes, films that explore both ends of the spectrum without judgment and acknowledging that the self discovery of a teenage girl cannot and should not be labeled, are necessary. Thanks to women like Heller and Gloecker, the coming-of-age story is getting a much needed revamp, and I couldn’t be more excited for what’s to come next.