Screened Out – The Diary of a Teenage Girl

By : Stephen Miller
Comments: 0

Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgård, Chris Meloni

Despite some amazingly strong performances, a nail-biting premise, and a nifty, bohemian ‘70s style, Diary isn’t totally satisfying.

A general audience will feel like this movie is lasses-faire with the repulsive subject of pedophilia. Art film aficionados – especially people who love the daring, disgusting 2002 graphic novel this was based on – will feel the filmmakers didn’t push far enough. To avoid making a flick only strong-hearted film snobs would pay money for, Diary softens its subject and avoids the messier stuff. It refuses to take a stand – either shock the audience or present pleasant, moralizing entertainment.

Powley portrays Minnie, a selfish 15-year-old girl with raging hormones. She seduces her mother’s 35-year-old boyfriend (Skarsgård), an adult who should know better. Powley’s mother (Wiig) is a free spirit – flitting around 1976 San Francisco, doing drugs, and initiating threesomes with friends. Yet, having her boyfriend shtupping her underage daughter is probably not copacetic with Mommy.

The book is much more daring and depraved.

The book is much more daring and depraved.

It’s true that sexual awakening is messy and confusing; that part Diary explicitly captures. Minnie is also a budding comic artist, and her drawings are incorporated into the film. Like a dumb teenager, Minnie records on cassettes a diary details about her months-long, illegal sex.

The film just never takes advantage of all the twistedness of the graphic novel. The original, semi-autobiographical book was loaded with prostitution, teenage porn, kids selling drugs; we knew we were dealing with seriously damaged humans. The movie of Diary is too flaccid. It gently suggests that, since Minnie initiates the seduction, it’s her fault, even though she’s not the adult here.

What depravity Diary shows is airily excused by the setting of boho 1970s San Fran. If they really wanted to make a point, the filmmakers would borrow from the book how one mother sells her young daughter into adult filmmaking to feed a heroin addiction. We would understand more about how Minnie and her friends are left to fend for themselves by selfish, hedonistic adults.

The acting is pretty amazing, though. Wiig chooses yet another role (like last year’s dark comedy The Skeleton Twins) that shows her range. She perfectly portrays a miserable, selfish woman and a terrible parental figure.

Skarsgård – from TVs True Blood series – is a revelation. One can sense his pathology and his neediness. It’s a difficult career choice to portray a pedophile, and he does so with nuances that make the risk worth it.

For me, Minnie is slightly off-putting. It’s as if she’s wholly blamed for the affair. Powley part as written doesn’t have a chance to overcome this.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

First-time director Marielle Heller also adapted the script. She elicits fantastic performances, even when they all downplay horrifying scenes – basically sleepwalking through moral turpitude. Mostly, Heller’s adaptation is disingenuous to its source material and the rotten adults who create Diary’s world.

For film geeks, Diary takes some chances but could’ve taken more. To an everyday movie-going audience, the story is too sketchy, especially with the characters’ indifference to the troubling subject of pedophilia. Diary should be more daring or less so.

Share this story: