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The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Still from “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”via YouTube

Is this the most sexually confrontational teen film?

It’s been slapped with an 18 rating, but The Diary of a Teenage Girl could be the most important film for frigid teens in decades

The complexity of adolescence has always been hard to pin down. Yet, first time writer-director Marielle Heller’s sexed-up tale of libido-liberation beautifully recognises the true nuances of teenage experience. Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel, The Diary of a Teenage Girl articulately portrays 15-year-old Minnie Goetze’s discovery of love, lust and the sexual agency locked within her. When aspiring artist Minnie (Bel Powley) loses her virginity, it’s not to her high-school sweetheart but to a man 20 years her senior. Growing up within the boundary-less counter-culture of 1970s San Francisco, Minnie sleeps with her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). What ensues is a narrative that teeters on the darker side of morality, a side that teenagers all too willingly find themselves on. Her typically tumultuous transition from girl to woman eschews Hollywood cliches and instead offers a healthy serving of unapologetic nudity, sex and girlish glee. Here the film’s star, Bel Powley, explains why this is a coming of age film that will knock your socks off.


“We’re not presenting some perfect young girl – the beautiful, Hollywood version of a young woman who makes her mistakes, is punished for them and then ends up with a really hot guy at the end. That’s not how life works and people shouldn’t try and copy those kind of stories. We wanted the film to be a truthful portrayal of what it’s like to be a young woman. Growing up, I felt unrepresented in movies. A lot of the characters I was watching were very 2D – the virginal princess waiting for her Prince Charming, or the school slut. All of those characters are very unattainable and also not real, they make you feel very alienated, especially when it comes to your sexuality. I think a film like this has been a long time coming. It’s really important for girls to watch it so that they can realise that thinking about sex and being horny, and sleeping with the wrong people, and making mistakes and learning from them, doesn’t make you a freak.”


“In Diary of a Teenage Girl, the way that Minnie approaches her body through her sexuality is much more honest and true to life. She only becomes aware of her body and its true potential after she has sex. Her mum (Kristen Wiig) tries to make her aware of her body prematurely but she does it on her own terms. The film is empowering for young women in that it’s trying to promote learning to love and accept yourself and your body. It’s great that she’s so naked in the film and that it’s a real body that’s on screen. I also have quite liberal parents so I wasn’t afraid for them to see it at all – I’m not sure about my grandma though, that might be a step too far.”

“It’s so not OK for teenager girls to be like, ‘I masturbated,’ or, ‘I had sex with this guy and then I had sex with another guy.’ These are the differences between how we treat men and women” – Bel Powley


There was a lot of raw teenage emotion already in the writing and that’s one of the reasons why I wanted the part so much. I tried to tap back into how it felt when I was a teenager because you’ve got hormones going crazy, your body is changing, your mind is changing, and you’re absorbing so much information. When you’re a teenager everything means so much and your emotions are so extreme and on the surface, you really oscillate between loads of different emotions at one time. As adults we call teenagers immature because you can’t keep a lid on shit when you’re a teenager, can you? Especially with first love, as you get very confused between physical attraction and emotional attraction. And if someone does something nice for you, or kisses you, or if you fuck someone, you immediately fall in love with them and you’ll die if they leave you. I wanted to tap back into that kind of extremity of emotion.”


“Sexually, Minnie learns a lot from sleeping with Monroe and having that extreme attraction. She actually surpasses her peers in her sexual knowledge. That’s why the scene where she has sex with Ricky Wasserman is so good and it’s so affecting when he says, ‘You’re just too passionate.’ It’s really tragic. I think it’s incredibly important to show how female passion can really scare and intimidate men. Maybe the reason that it’s more common for women and girls to keep a diary is because we can’t talk about those things with anyone, so we’ve learnt to write it all down. It’s so not OK for teenager girls to be like, ‘I’m horny,’ or ‘I masturbated,’ or ‘I had sex with this guy and then I had sex with another guy.’ These are the differences between how we treat men and women. Female sexuality is still so taboo, so I think it’s really important and amazing that we’re showing a young girl who is sexually active and making mistakes and learning from them.”


“I want to continue to play well-rounded, 3D female roles and they don’t come around often. It doesn’t have to be a strong woman, it doesn’t have to be a woman who wins at the end, it just has to be a fleshed out part. I’m doing a film with Al-Mansour (Saudi Arabia’s first female director); she’s another really amazing, prolific, feminist, female director, so I’m really excited to be working with her. It’s called A Storm in the Stars, and it’s a period piece about Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth) and Mary Shelley’s (Elle Fanning) love affair and the trip they and Mary’s half-sister Claire (Powley) took to Lake Geneva to stay with Lord Byron. I’m really excited to play another interesting woman.”

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is released in UK cinemas on August 7