The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

You can sort of understand why this film might be troubling to censors, who in the UK have slapped it with an 18 classification. It’s not that it’s particularly sexually explicit, or nasty or degrading, but that it deals with Minnie, a young woman of 15, having an affair with her mother’s boyfriend. But probably more concerning to censors is that it’s entirely told from her point of view, in which adult characters have no moralising role in Minnie’s development (if anything her mother encourages her to flaunt herself more), and in which Minnie is unapologetic and unashamed about what she wants. But that’s a perspective so little seen in the coming-of-age genre, that it makes me wonder if my dislike for the genre is more its usual focus on gamine young women being objects of adoration seemingly unattainable to oily spotted teenage dudes, or other boring tropes of male self-actualisation like going out into the wilderness, or bonding with older guys to learn some Truth about masculinity. In any case, I imagine the thematic and narrative focus here partly has something to do with its setting in late-70s San Francisco, as well as being based on the autobiography of Phoebe Gloeckner, a cartoonist growing up under the artistic influence of such figures as Aline Kominsky (mentioned here, later married to Robert Crumb). I’ve read her first published anthology, A Child’s Life, and it’s fantastic not to mention quite boldly graphic (Gloeckner also spent some time as a medical illustrator). Some of the nastier edges have been toned down in the film, but there are still magical little efflorescences of animation that crop up every so often around Minnie. However, aside from its singular focus and unapologetic take on adolescent sexuality, the film also chiefly benefits from the performance of Bel Powley, largely a newcomer to film (although previously on TV in the UK, and the undoubted comic star of A Royal Night Out earlier this year), who impresses as Minnie largely for her unaffected ingenuousness and wide-eyed wonder, without ever feeling the need to dress up for the attention of men. As it’s based around her recorded diaries, there’s a fair amount of teenage solipsism, but this never overwhelms the story and is generally treated as gentle comic fodder, as Minnie knocks about from one adventure to another. Being told from Minnie’s point of view, Alexander Skarsgård’s Monroe is a sort of affable loser rather than anyone more threateningly creepy, while her mother just seems strangely absent (something Kristen Wiig, playing it straight, is very good at doing), though the appearance of her feared stepdad Pascal (Christopher Meloni) is a brief but enjoyable cameo and his advice sets up Minnie’s closure with Monroe perfectly, though you’ll really have to go see the film to know what I’m talking about. So I recommend doing that. It’s certainly not what you’d usually expect from an 18-rated film.


© Sony Pictures Classics

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Marielle Heller (based on the graphic novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures by Phoebe Gloeckner) | Cinematographer Brandon Trost | Starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig | Length 102 minutes || Seen at Picturehouse Central, London, Saturday 8 August 2015

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A Royal Night Out (2015)

I’m no royalist, and I’m pretty sure this film was never made with me in mind as audience, but that said, this is all very jolly and likeable in an entirely flimsy way. It charts a putative night out that the royal princesses Elizabeth and Margaret spent in London on VE Day in 1945, while their father King George VI (Rupert Everett) stayed home to deliver a speech — you may remember another recent film about his speechmaking. By his side is his wife Elizabeth (Emily Watson), and while these four central characters are based on real people, there’s little point beyond that in trying to link any of their character traits or stories to reality: this is all very much fiction. The heart of the film is a comedy romp and the two lead actors do brilliantly well in hitting the right tone for their performances, with Sarah Gadon just a little bit reserved as ‘Lilibet’, while Bel Powley is an irrepressible riot of energy as Margaret (and easily the film’s comic highlight). The challenge for the filmmakers is on the one hand making its aristocratic protagonists likeable (which it largely does, hence my caveat about setting aside any sense of historicity), and on the other in harnessing a light-hearted comedy to a respectful depiction of the gravity of the historical events and the tolls of war on the soldiers. This latter aspect is primarily represented by the cantankerous Jack Reynor as a (working-class) AWOL airman who falls for Elizabeth. Thus amongst the peripatetic tour of nighttime London circa 1945 (with, incidentally, a strange sense of geography for those who know it), there are some requisite sombre moments, but for the most part it’s all about the comedy. If you can get past the use of the royal personages and suspend your disbelief, it’s all quite charming really.


© Lionsgate

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director Julian Jarrold | Writers Trevor da Silva and Kevin Hood | Cinematographer Christophe Beaucarne | Starring Sarah Gadon, Bel Powley, Jack Reynor, Rupert Everett, Emily Watson | Length 97 minutes || Seen at Cineworld West India Quay, London, Thursday 21 May 2015