The Diary of a Teenage Girl’s Bright Star on Sex, Pies and Coming of Age

By  · Published on August 7th, 2015

Sony Pictures Classics

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is probably the best movie of the year at the moment. Marielle Heller’s directorial debut is a stunning piece of work – honest, funny, imaginative, and human. The adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel premiered at Sundance this year, where we named Heller the breakout director of the festival, and we’ve been championing this movie ever since on the site. It’s about a subject we don’t see very often: a young girl’s sexual awakening.

Heller’s film is about much more than that, but the story’s 15-year-old protagonist, Minnie (Bel Powley), in her opening scene, with a big smile on her face, exclaims, “I’ve just had sex!” She’s over the moon, despite the fact the man she just lost her virginity to her mother’s handsome doofus of a boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Nonetheless, Minnie continues to explore her sexuality, both with her mother’s boyfriend and other boys. Minnie’s relationship with Monroe is illegal, and, on top of that, plain hurtful towards her mother, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), but Marielle Heller never presents her journey through a judgmental or black and white lens – which may throw some people.

At the Sundance screening I attended the first question at the Q & A was, “Did you make this film as an excuse for pedophilia?” That man’s question ended up saying more about him than the movie – and it was also met with some well-earned groans from fellow audience members. Yes, it is a pedophiliac relationship, but to say that’s all the movie is about is asinine and reductive. “Female sexuality isn’t something that’s been explored in film as much as male sexuality,” star Bel Powley says. “We’ve had movies about men having sex with pies. Like, come on. Men and women should be equals. Men and women should both have sex with pies! I want women to see this movie for that reason. It’s a universal story.”

When they reboot/remake American Pie any day now, someone at Universal should take note of Powley’s request. Why couldn’t the genders flip and, instead of a nerdy white guy, we see a woman experimenting with the pie? Wouldn’t that be just as funny? For storytelling purposes, the girl might have to be a bit dimmer than Jason Biggs’ character, because what girl would believe having sex with a man feels like apple pie? Some suspension of disbelief would probably be required in this scene, but I digress.

The sex has become a large talking point for The Diary of a Teenage Girl, especially the explicit nature of the sex scenes. Heller does not sugarcoat Minnie’s point-of-view: the audience sees it all because Minnie would remember it all. The director doesn’t hide when the teenager is excited or having a good time. “When I read the script or saw the finished film, I didn’t think, ‘Ah, that’s a movie with a lot of fucking in it,’” Powley says. “I just saw it and thought, That’s an amazing film about coming-of-age. The sex didn’t really standout to me.”

This may be shocking, but… you don’t have to be a woman to relate to Minnie’s experience. The Diary of a Teenage Girl touches on plenty of emotions anybody who was once a teenager will understand. Minnie makes some mistakes – which are arguably larger than the average teenager’s – but anyone who had or still has regrets about choices they made as a teen will connect with Minnie’s arc in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. “I wish I had seen this movie as a teenager,” Powley says. “My emotions were so heightened. When I made mistakes I felt the world was gonna end. I wish I had someone tell me, ‘The world is not going to end. You’re going to be fine.’ I don’t know how I survived when my brain was acting like that. I don’t know how I got through those years – being so irrational and so fucking nuts. It’s not even that you learn from these mistakes, but just accept that they happened and move on with the next chapter of your life.”

Bel Powley’s hope is that teenage girls have the opportunity to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which is R-rated. There’s a decent amount of sex in the film, which, of course, teenagers just can’t handle to watch. However, this weekend teens can instead see some heads explode in the PG-13 Fantastic Four. “I haven’t talked to any 15-year-olds who have seen the movie, but I have talked to a lot of women 18 and up – and everyone’s reaction has been so positive,” Powley concludes. “I have women coming up to me saying, ‘I understand that. I get how Minnie feels.’ Also, there’s women pleased and proud there’s a female body on the screen that is normal and not Hollywoodized.”

The Diary of a Teenage Girl opens in theaters August 7th.

Longtime FSR contributor Jack Giroux likes movies. He thinks they're swell.