A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Diary of a Teenage Girl is '70s-set coming-of-age drama set in San Francisco. Although it's about a 15-year-old girl, it's probably best for the oldest teens and adults due to its extremely mature content. It's very frank about sex, with frequent nudity (especially a teen girl's breasts) and tons of talk about wanting/having/needing sex, as well as references to masturbation, oral sex (once for money), and more. The main character leaves no stone unturned in exploring her burgeoning sexuality (she experiments with many men and also a woman), and a relationship with a thirtysomething man figures heavily in her explorations. There's also tons of swearing (particularly "f--k"), drinking, and drug use (pot, cocaine) by both adults and teens -- in some cases, side by side. While the main character ultimately learns a lot about who she is and what she wants -- and that she doesn't need a man to be happy -- she makes a ton of iffy choices along the way, making her a complicated role model (at best) for younger teens.
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What's the story?
Based on Phoebe Gloeckner's semi-autobiographical graphic novel, THE DIARY OF A TEENAGE GIRL follows the travails of Minnie (Bel Powley), a 15-year-old girl living in San Francisco in 1976. Minnie is passionate about cartooning and sexuality, though not necessarily in that order. After she loses her virginity to Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), all Minnie seems to be able to think about is sleeping with him, but there are major complications: First, he's dating her mom, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig). And second, he's old enough to be her dad. Thrilled, confused, and mercurial, Minnie proceeds to navigate teenagehood with a lust that knows no bounds -- and no boundaries to enclose her (or, sadly, to help her feel safe).
Is it any good?
There's no ignoring the daring that exists in a film that doesn't attempt to judge a 15-year-old for her actions -- or legislate what's right or wrong about a teenage girl exploring her body. That said, why provide this same generosity to her 35-year-old lover, one who's also involved with her mother? In its zeal to maintain a judgment-free zone, The Diary of a Teenage Girl comes across as being either somewhat naive or pandering, neither one of which is a great place to be. But the cast members, notably Powley (who's incredible) and Skarsgard, give themselves over to the experience, unafraid of the film's irreverent (and sometimes quite graphic) explorations of sex.
Still, for a movie about high emotions and deep desires, Diary feels like it's at a bit of a remove. We don't see Minnie struggle too much with her decisions and choices, and yet we're supposed to feel like some insight has been achieved, some epiphany found. It's encouraging when teenager characters are allowed to be vocal about everything they're feeling and exploring, but when those explorations lack a huge dose of sobriety and self-reflection, a story starts to feel hollow. Diary is an important movie in many ways, and possibly even groundbreaking. But perfect? Not quite.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Diary of a Teenage Girl handles sex and sexuality. Is Minnie empowered or overwhelmed by her experiences? What does she learn from them? Is her relationship with Monroe truly consensual? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
The movie is about a young woman who openly embraces her sexuality in a confusing time. That makes her relatable, but would you consider her a role model for teens? What about the adults in the film? Are any of them someone you'd look up to?
How does the film portray drinking and drug use? Are the extremes easy to look past because the film takes place in the past? How would you feel if it was a contemporary story? What part is most shocking/surprising, and why? Are there realistic consequences?
What holds Minnie back from going further down a dangerous path? Why do you think she decides to get herself out of the situation that Tabatha puts her in?
How accurate do you think the film is as a reflection of being a teenager in the 1970s? What was different about life then? How was it similar?
- In theaters: August 7, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: January 19, 2016
- Cast: Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard, Bel Powley
- Director: Marielle Heller
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 102 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language and drinking-all involving teens
- Last updated: April 23, 2020
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