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Join Christina Newland for a watch-along viewing of The Diary of a Teenage Girl

In celebration of the launch of Female Desire on Screen on BFI Player, Christina Newland – season curator and editor of anthology She Found It at the Movies: Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema – will be live-blogging Marielle Heller’s sexy coming-of-age story The Diary of a Teenage Girl from 7pm.

“I had sex today. Holy shit!”

So begins the sexual and emotional journey of Minnie (Bel Powley), a teen girl growing up in the bohemian enclave of ’70s San Francisco. Her mother’s handsome but much-older boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) catches her fancy and an inappropriate relationship ensues. Marielle Heller, Academy Award-nominated director of Can You Ever Forgive Me? and A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, began her filmmaking career with this raucous, often pungently funny debut. Reversing staid ideas about girlish innocence and female victimhood, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is as frank as it is wise.

Just us at 7pm on 24 April for a watch-along of The Diary of a Teenage Girl (available to rent here) with Christina.

Find out more about the Female Desire on Screen season

She Found It at the Movies – Women Writers on Sex, Desire and Cinema, published by Red Press, is out now.

Hello, this is Christina Newland live from my living room sofa. Welcome to the BFI liveblog of The Diary of a Teenage Girl. In 15 minutes, I’ll be pressing play on Marielle Heller’s debut film, which you can go ahead and rent now from BFI Player or wherever you can find it. Looking forward to a rewatch!

If this is your first time seeing the movie, you’re in for a treat. I’m excited for Alexander Skarsgard’s moustache, not gonna lie. 

We’re off

Let’s start out with a quote from filmmaker Marielle Heller, who helped explain her rationale for the story of Minnie: “The media has endlessly told teenage girls that boys are the only ones who are going to want sex. Girls are going to be the ones that don’t want it. Girls are going to want to withhold it until they decide that they are willing to give it to the guy. But what if you’re a teenage girl who wants to have sex?”

This was Marielle Heller’s first movie. Heller called it a ‘labour of love’, saying it took her eight years or so to get made. The story is adapted from a graphic novel of the same name, by Phoebe Gloeckner. 

This Bel Powley’s breakout role — the British actress is playing 15, but she was actually 22. 

And there’s the first sight of that majestic tache. 

The illustrations in the movie were done by Icelandic artist Sara Gunnarsdóttir, designed to reflect the nature of the film’s graphic novel basis. They’re intentionally on the cruder side, to reflect Minnie’s being a budding artist. 

Monroe, that hard-on remark is highly inappropriate from a 35 year old to a 15 year old. And yet…. Minnie seems to be taking an active role in this whole situation, too. The first inklings that this is not a simple story about an uncomfortable relationship….

Laughing at that “I may never get another chance” remark. This film has being a teenager so incredibly correct: the yearning for attention, the newfound sexual confidence, the absolute callowness. 

Monroe is a dirtbag. Yet Heller’s humorous angle and the way she approaches is so generous and unjudgemental. We can see his appeal to Minnie, too. This is what she wants right now, ill-advised as it may be. Seeing a teenage girl be brazen about exploring her sexuality is still so unusual.

“This makes me officially an adult, right?”

Oh, if only kiddo.

Skarsgard plays this role so well – he’s got a kind of immature charm, like he’s a teenager himself. In interviews, he spoke about the appeal in playing a character like Monroe – because he’s not exactly one thing or another. 

I love that the nudity Heller shows is of Minnie looking at herself in the mirror, not during the sex scenes. There’s nothing titillating about it: she is regarding herself and trying to make sense of her body as she’s growing into it. 

Great mother-daughter chat, here. The incredibly critical remarks. It seems like….mama doesn’t have many limits about what she says and does with her kid.

The inner monologue of a horny teenage girl. Anyone else feeling seen? 

Allie Kominsky was a huge real-life influence on the creator of the Diary of a Teenage Girl graphic novel, Phoebe Gloeckner. 

I love the outsized imagination from this illustration. The idea of a giant Minnie stomping around. It explains so much about the self-consciousness and self-involvement of being 15. Everything seems so incredibly magnified. 

Now seems like a good time to talk a bit about the ratings controversy. It’s an 18 here in the UK, and rated R in the US. When it came out in 2015, Marielle Heller and her producers asked the BBFC to reconsider their strict ratings. After all, the film was made for adolescent women, and now they wouldn’t be allowed in to see it.

The BBFC refused to change their rating, saying the drug use and the age gap between Monroe and Minnie was too intense to give it a 15. 

Oh, this high school boy is doing that jackhammer thing. She is so much more sophisticated than him. Look at his face: he’s a little freaked out by how hard she’s coming.

On a side note, I’m sorry but I really am living for the super ’70s threads in this film. Especially on Monroe. Skarsgard is playing such a good-looking sleazebag. 

In the end, the BBFC had to release a statement because they received so much criticism for their ratings decision. A lot of people, especially the filmmakers, were really disappointed. In the words of the people at Vertigo Releasing: “The film explores female sexuality with boldness and honesty in an unexploitative manner. In an age where young women are still continually being sexualised and objectified we feel The Diary of a Teenage Girl sends a very positive, reassuring message to young girls about female sexuality and body image.”

“I don’t think you should show these to anyone,” says Monroe, looking at Minnie’s “freaky” and sexual drawings. The subtle nods to the way men are still scared by sexually active and assertive women….

Here’s a real turning point in the Minnie/Monroe affair. She is acting childishly and sulking: of course she is. She wants attention, she’s infatuated, and he can’t exactly be surprised. 

Ahaha, I love that line. “He’s just a dirty old man.” Girly is moving onward and upward. No victimhood here.

I am not the only one that has licked a poster, apparently.

This dirty girl chatter about blowjobs… look at the enormous pride on her face. 

“The makings of a harlot” sounds like a great title for an autobiography.

Beautiful production design in this film. It evokes the loucheness of ’76 San Francisco so well, especially in this living room and its light.

On the #MyFemaleDesire hashtag on Twitter, someone’s asked what I think of Patty Hearst’s inclusion in the news scenes. I think there’s a running joke there about Stockholm Syndrome and abusive relationships vis-à-vis Minnie’s own relationships… 

The random co-fellatio in a bar bathroom? A bridge too far. “I feel weird and gross.” Heller is showing us that the road to sexual maturity and sexual experimentation is not neat or easy. 

There’s a running theme in this film of men being scared of women. Pascal has just said his ex-wife “frightened” him. The high school boy told Minnie sex with her could “be scary”. 

It’s Allie Kominsky, the graphic novel hero from earlier. 

Marielle Heller has said that this cassette recording diary would probably be on a YouTube channel in this day and age, or some other form of social media that wasn’t private. I wonder what Minnie’s Instagram would be like. 

“A viscous cervical mucus.” Damn.

But Minnie is getting a little jealous. 

Brilliant performance here from Skarsgard. There’s genuine vulnerability to him; there’s a real grey area here. And yet: wow….this confrontation is awful. He’s trying to gaslight Kristin Wiig. 

It’s hard not to end up catching feelings when you’re 15 and this confused. I love her rage and heartbreak mixing with her horniness. “I fuck men hard because I hate them.”

In an interview, Marielle Heller described her affinity with Minnie’s character. “I was a pretty horny teenage girl. But I never saw any representation of that, so I felt there was something wrong with me.”

Throughout this film, the whole world seems to tell Minnie — that she’s both ‘not sexy enough’ and overly sexual, a ‘nympho’, too intense, freaky. That’s how you feel as a hormonal girl thinking about sex all the time. The world says that is for boys, not girls. This movie is really working to break that attitude down, and to normalise the chaos in Minnie’s head and heart. 

Monroe’s attempt at having a conscience. At least he’s trying? 

As brilliant as Bel Powley is — and she is brilliant in this role — so much of this film relies on Monroe being someone with shades of light and dark. This scene is so sad. He’s almost not mature enough to know what’s best for himself or Minnie.

But Minnie is beginning to realise that *she* knows what’s best for herself. I love this moment of realisation. 

Oh boy. Lots of complicated feelings here. “He made me feel like I was fucking crazy and I knew it,” she says. A familiar sentiment to many a lied-to woman.

No, Minnie. Don’t go down the Patty Hearst route. 

Great needle drop. Television’s ‘See No Evil’ is a masterpiece of a song. 

Promiscuity always comes with some amount of risk for a woman, whether she’s 15 or 50. But crucially, it never feels like Heller is punishing Minnie. We make mistakes, sometimes. That’s all. 

“I’m better than you, you sonofabitch.”

Brilliant line. 

We all want to be loved and encouraged and told we aren’t in fact weird but perfectly, perfectly fine as we are. Especially teenage girls like Minnie who feel like misfits, something most young women feel as we come to terms with our bodies, men and sex. The Diary of a Teenage Girl shows us that the road to sexual maturity is rarely unproblematic for most women. We shouldn’t be shamed for that. Minnie is going to be just fine. I love that.

And that’s it! I hope so much you all enjoyed the film; I know I did. Feel free to tweet me any questions or thoughts at @christinalefou or on the #MyFemaleDesire hashtag. 

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