For All The Girls Who Have Grown
There aren’t that many movies that sensitively portray young women’s sexuality. Oftentimes, sex is portrayed as the goal, reward, be-all and end-all (The To-Do List, 2013). Other times, sex is portrayed as the root of all shame for young women, as they become pregnant and/or excluded by their peers, if not society (practically every other movie). However, in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, sex is portrayed as abeginning. Our protagonist, Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), is a 15-year-old aspiring artist. Minnie is charming, spontaneous, and genuinely curious about sex. Her satisfied and smiling face is shown as we hear her voice for the first time: “I had sex today. Holy shit.” She didn’t lose her virginity, she didn’t become a woman, she simplyhad sex.
The story sets in golden-hued 1970s San Fransisco where Iggy Pop posters get licked on and ‘Born to Lude’ is painted on walls. Minnie lives with her emotionally unavailable mother, Charlotte; a nosy and naive younger sister, Gretel; and a black-and-white cat named Domino. Her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe, visits often enough to build a relationship with Minnie where she’s comfortable to burp in front of him and softly punch him when he laughs at her.
When Minnie takes her mother’s place to go out with Monroe for 2-for-1-Tuesday in a nearby bar, she—after some moments of playful wrestling and finger-sucking—asks him to have sex with her. And Monroe, unsurprised and horny, agrees to fulfill her request the following day. In the next scene, we find Minnie repeating ‘Oh my god’ at the thought of somebody wanting to have sex with her. (Haven’t we all been there?)
The sex scenes are never filmed in a way to romanticize or fetishize their relationship, and they’re not judgmental either, just calculated enough to make the audience aware that it was not okay nor right. After their first sexual encounter, Minnie asks Monroe to take a picture of her as if to immortalize the moment that she will later call as becoming “officially an adult” while sniffing the dried virginal blood on her fingernail.
The second Minnie gets home, she takes out an audio recorder and recalls the event in details while her fantasies, in the form of bright and psychedelic flowers and feathers, come to life—punctuating her emotions. The animation allows us to get closer to the inner workings of her mind and her understanding of the world. In one scene, she writes a letter to a comic book superstar, Aline Kominsky, about her first comic book of a gargantuan woman fearlessly and confidently walking around the city.
Minnie contradicts herself in many ways any teenager does: independent but vulnerable, self-sufficient but lonely. She is self-assured and confident when it comes to her decisions about sex, but is insecure and painfully self-conscious of her body and how other people may look at or think about it. Minnie’s inner monologues, although heartbreaking, are very personal and real. Growing up as a female in a place and era where both sex and self-love are shamed, I have often thought the same things Minnie has, and in a smaller scale, have gone through the same things she has.
Minnie, lead by the fear of being unloved, mistakes the first sign of affection as love. She thinks Monroe is her whole world, but actually her story stretches so far beyond him. The film is unique in a way that it portrays Monroe not as a predator, but an immature, passive opportunist who tries to cling on to his fading youth by having sex with a girl 20 years his junior. On the other hand, Minnie’s attraction to Monroe is rooted in how he makes her feel confident and desired, while boys her age feel intimidated and scared of her sexual intensity and enthusiasm. Monroe feels half-heartedly guilty about their affair, but still lets himself have sex with Minnie. When he finally decides to end it, Minnie goes home, refuses to be a “sniveling cry-baby”, puts on makeup, and goes for a girl, Tabatha, who she knows is clearly bad for her—to the point I start to think that Monroe is the one she should be with.
Minnie takes risk after risk and when she makes a mistake, she faces the oftenly saddening consequences (and eventually, maturity) that accompany it. What we learn to love the most about this film is that none of Minnie’s decisions or mistakes is ever presented as a useless or self-destructive experience but a sheer experience. It reminds us of the importance of agency and independency within one’s life. It allows a teenage girl to be a regular, mistake-making teenage girl. It never mocks Minnie’s bursting desire to be loved and wanted. It is sensitive about the confusions of growing up. And in the end, Minnie grows from her mistakes and learns that it’s never sex or men she needs to be happy.
Going from “I want a body pressed up next to me so that I know that I’m really here,” to“So maybe nobody loves me. Maybe nobody will ever love me. But maybe it’s not about being loved by somebody else,” The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an honest story about the joy of finally embracing yourself, even when no one’s telling you to.
Talissa Febra (b. 1995) is a psychology student residing in Bandung. She writes about feelings, emotions, and sometimes the mental processes behind them. She passes her non-writing hours watching films and makeup tutorials. Fatal weaknesses: salty snacks and Greek tragedies. Nudge her at @tasilsa.