We’ll begin with a snippet from Manohla Dargis‘s dispatch from Sundance to the New York Times: “Set in the 1970s, [The Diary of a Teenage Girl] opens with its titular 15-year-old memoirist, Minnie (a wonderful Bel Powley), trucking through a San Francisco park while announcing in voice-over that she’s just had sex with a guy who, yikes, turns out to be her mother’s boyfriend. The writer and director Marielle Heller, working from Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel and using some lovely animation (and a little help from the great cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb), pulls off the tricky feat of honoring Minnie’s sexuality without exploiting it or her.”
“The first thing to know about The Diary of a Teenage Girl is that young British actress Powley is staggeringly good in it,” declares Bilge Ebiri at Vulture. “After the film’s packed premiere at Sundance, it seemed clear to pretty much everyone in the room that this unknown, who got the part off an audition tape, was now one of this festival’s genuine stars. (Her co-stars [Kristen] Wiig and [Alexander] Skarsgård are also excellent, it should be noted—but really, the day is Powley’s.) The attention and acclaim are warranted. Powley is asked to do a lot here.” Diary “charts Minnie’s journey from shy teen to unapologetic hedonist, and the actress’s very physical presence seems to transform. Her wide eyes go from tense to questioning to hungry; her collapsed posture starts to betray real confidence, even drive. She grows up before our eyes.”
“Eventually, Minnie gets emotionally battered by her entanglement with a more experienced man trying to hold her at arm’s length, but the physical side is never a problem,” notes Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. “Her budding sexuality is a powerful, intimidating force, and the movie deserves all sorts of credit for not oversimplifying its unhealthy central relationship—Minnie has great sex with someone who only otherwise makes her feel like shit.”
Diary “suffers some from imposing a plot arc onto material that works better as a series of anecdotes about a libertine youth,” finds Noel Murray at the Dissolve. “Still, Powell brings a combination of carnality and wide-eyed innocence to a character who treats sex, drugs, and even comics as pass-cards into the secret club of adults. The film is heartbreakingly specific about that particular period of adolescence when kids are mentally and physically primed to experiment with grown-up pleasures, but not emotionally ready.”
Asks Brian Moylan in the Guardian: “Is it her ill-advised (and possibly abusive) first sexual experience that forms her, is it her mother who fancies herself a feminist but competes with women for men’s attention, is it the drugs, is it her sexually-progressive friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters), is it the 70s, is it underground comics, is it San Francisco, is it just hormones? No, it’s all of those things. And this is the rare movie that realises that individuals are the sum of formative experiences—some good, some bad, and some productive in their devastation.”
More from Michael Cusumano (Film Experience), Jack Giroux (Film Stage, A), Dennis Harvey (Variety), Anisha Jhaveri (Indiewire, A-), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Nathaniel Rogers (Film Experience) and Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, B/B+). Filmmaker gets a few words with Heller.
Variety‘s Brent Lang reports that, for $2 million, Sony Pictures Classics has picked up North American rights “along with other worldwide rights.”
Updates, 2/1: “Miraculously, Powley manages to be precocious without coming off as cloying,” writes Sam Fragoso at RogerEbert.com. “There’s a curiosity in Minnie that connects—a sort of carnal uncertainty that both frightens and elates.”
Jada Yuan talks with Powley and Skarsgård for Vulture.
Updates, 3/17: “The Diary of a Teenage Girl may laugh at Minnie’s delusions, but it never belittles her,” writes Elise Nakhnikian for Slant. “Powley’s huge, round eyes, generously padded cheeks, and wide, goofy grin make her look a little like a cartoon herself. They also give her an air of innocence that, together with her lush woman’s body, perfectly embody the dichotomy that is Minnie, a child balanced precariously on the brink of adulthood.”
A.O. Scott in the New York Times: “There is plenty here to make viewers uncomfortable—especially, I have to admit, this parent of a teenage girl—but what is most remarkable about Minnie’s Diary is how fully and unapologetically it honors her point of view.”
Updates, 3/21: Emma Myers interviews Heller for Film Comment.
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