EIFF film review: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

British actress Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Picture: Contributed

British actress Bel Powley in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Picture: Contributed

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ALISTAIR Harkness reviews British actress Bel Powley’s star-making performance in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Edinburgh international film festival

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Star rating: ****

British actress Bel Powley delivers a star-making performance in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a brilliant, provocative, achingly honest and intimate comedy-drama about a 17-year-old girl’s sexual awakening amidst the soured free love hippie dream of mid-1970s San Francisco. Adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel by first-time writer/director Marielle Heller, the film smartly uses the confessional aspect of its heroine’s audio journal – she speaks her thoughts directly into a tape recorder, hiding the cassettes in a shoebox under her bed – to provide us with unfiltered insights into her psyche as she processes her rapid transformation from arty and virginal school girl to confused but increasingly self-aware young woman.

We join aspiring cartoonist Minnie (Powley) shortly after losing her virginity: her bewildered excitement in recounting this event for herself, compared to her blasé description of it later on for her best friend, is suggestive of someone caught in the hormonal confusion of adolescence, naively determined to enter an adult world she doesn’t yet realise is destined to disappoint and betray her. Her first time has already been complicated by the fact that it was with an older man who just happens to be the current boyfriend of her bohemian mother (played by a very good Kristen Wiig). Needless to say, what follows gets very messy indeed as Minnie’s transgressive affair with Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard) sets her on a boundary-testing quest to find herself in a counter-culture that doesn’t believe in boundaries.

Shot in the hazy style of an old instamatic camera, the film augments Minnie’s diary entries with comic book illustrations that further plug us into her heightened emotional state. But it’s Powley, with her Manga-wide eyes and ability to convey vulnerability, heartache and a hardening resolve about who Minnie is as a person that grounds the film and makes it special.

• The Diary of a Teenage Girl , tonight, Filmhouse and tomorrow, Cineworld. www.edfilmfest.org.uk

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