The Diary of a Teenage Girl

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Proves once and for all that you should never go into somebody’s diary.
Movie Review #1,009

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Sony Pictures Classics
Drama, Romance
1 hour, 42 minutes
Rated R (strong sexual content including dialogue, graphic nudity, drug use, language and drinking – all involving teens)
Released August 28, 2015
Directed by Marielle Heller
From the novel by Phoebe Gloeckner
Screenplay by Marielle Heller
Starring Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgard, and Kristen Wiig

Let’s do some math. From August 28th through September 3rd, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” enjoyed a wide release. That’s 795 theaters for seven days. It made $583,267 in its week of wide release, which is $734 per theater. Let’s assume that half of the theaters playing the movie were open only on the weekend, and that the other half were open all week long. That’s $734 divided by 5 days, which is about $147 per theater per day. Now let’s assume that each theater was showing the movie twice per day. $147 divided by two is about $74 per showtime. Now, given that the average amount a studio takes from each movie ticket is $8.16, we divide $74 by $8.16, and we find that that the average showtime for this movie has an audience of almost 6 people.

Now I’m a nice guy. I conservatively (and unrealistically) estimated that only half of the movie theaters showing it would be open all week. I conservatively (and unrealistically) edited that the average theater only had two showtimes for the movie every day. And on top of that, I rounded up for nearly every number. Hence, there were probably only 3 or 4 people at each showing.

There’s two conclusions to be drawn from this. A) I wasn’t insane to think that the audience should have been bigger when I walked in the theater and saw that there would only be one other person watching with me. B) It takes an idiot to figure out just why the movie didn’t get a second week in wide release. Most movies do. Just not this one.

Some might call that turnout unfortunate. I call it karma. The more I think about “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, the more I detest it. This is trash dressed up as treasure. Up until the very experience of seeing it, you might think it’s another refreshingly honest indie teen dramedy. It’s a long name for a genre, but seemingly it’s the only one that fits. I’ll say it again just for the sake of retention: “refreshingly honest indie teen dramedy.” We’ve seen a lot of these lately, but it’s a rare kind of film that doesn’t get old, particularly when we see it largely in the form of quality entertainment. I’m talking about movies like “The Spectacular Now” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”. Certainly not “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”.

It’s safest to simply assume that “Diary” has nothing to do with the films that it sets out to emulate. If the aforementioned modern classics are “Doctor Zhivago”, then “Diary” is an exploitation film. Okay maybe that’s an exaggeration. “Diary” fits parts of the whole: it’s an indie film, and it’s about a teenager. I guess I could call it a dramedy, and the reason I say that is because it’s not science fiction, it’s not a mystery, and so on. It doesn’t work well as a comedy or a drama, either, but since it reminds me of other dramedies that didn’t work, I’ll just go ahead and call it a dramedy.

It’s definitely honest too. But the key part of a “refreshingly honest indie teen drama” isn’t merely honesty. It’s refreshing honesty. None of the honesty in “Diary” is refreshing. It’s brutal, and with that brutal honesty comes a brutal story that we couldn’t give a brutal shit about.

The movie starts out with the first voiceover line from the protagonist and narrator, a 15-year-old girl named Minnie: “I had sex today. Holy shit.” Screenwriter Phoebe Gloeckner thinks that she knows the thoughts running through our mind when we hear the line spoken: “You did? With whom? Where? What time of day? How long did it last?” She’s wrong though. I don’t think any of those questions crossed my mind. The most prominent thought in my mind when I heard the line was a simple “Okay then, good for you.”

We’re never really compelled to care about Minnie’s situation at all, despite the powerhouse performance Bel Powley gives in the role. At worst, she’s depraved, and at best, she’s boring. That’s not what we search for in a comedy, though. We search for laughter. I confess, I must have laughed a few times. As far as laughing sincerely, I don’t think I ever did. I probably laughed multiple times, and they were probably all nervous laughs. The movie thrives on awkwardness from its very beginning. It starts off extremely awkward, and it only grows more uncomfortable from thereon. Soon after Powley’s revelation that she has had sex, she reveals who she had sex with: Monroe, a 35-year-old man who is dating her mother. She’s just so eager to have sex with a human being that she doesn’t realize the guy she’s pining for is practically her stepdad? Okay, then. This isn’t just something she mentions, either. She talks about it for half the movie. For the other half of the movie, we’re either watching them do it, watching them talk about it, or watching them arguing. In case it wasn’t obvious, they’re arguing because they realize they’re in deep shit. She realizes she shouldn’t be having sex with people twice her age. He realizes that he’s supposed to be faithful to his girlfriend, not having sex with her daughter behind her back. And yet they do it continuously anyway, sometimes right after they’ve vowed to never do it again. I don’t know about you, but I happen to believe that these characters are idiots. I’m not saying that people who makes bad decisions is an idiot. I’m saying that when somebody is given the chance to make an obviously good decision over and over, and they always respond by immediately making the obviously bad decision instead, then that person is a complete idiot. In a movie like “Dumb and Dumber”, there’s no problem with our protagonists being idiots. But “Diary” isn’t in the same ballpark. It wants us to understand its characters, and frankly, I’ve never been able to understand the way idiots think and feel.

For the sake of keeping this review G-rated, I won’t go into the specifics of what we’re subjected to throughout the movie. Let’s just say that there’s a certain level of frankness that, if reached, increases the audience’s discomfort. The level of frankness “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” reaches is slightly higher. There’s a few merits in this movie that we could care less about. Bel Powley is great, Kristen Wiig is great, Alexander Skarsgard is great, the movie does a good job at representing 1976 San Francisco, as far as I know. In other words, the movie could have been worse than it already is, a fact that continues to surprise me.

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