I had mixed feelings as I walked out of Landmark's Harbor East Cinema in downtown Baltimore having just seen the critically acclaimed film "Diary of a Teenage Girl." Written and directed by Marielle Heller, this independent movie - which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and won the U.S Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography - is based on the eponymous semi-autobiographical (graphic) novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.
Reviews have been positive, critics calling it "boldly unconventional and refreshingly honest". Unconventional certainly is the word I would use to describe this coming of age film, which tells the story of 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (played by Bel Powley), an aspiring cartoonist who seeks to find love and meaning in her young life. Minnie's journey to self-discovery takes her along a treacherous path, in which she experiments with casual drug use and explores her sexuality, leading her, at times, into great danger.
The nucleus of this story is the romantic relationship between our 15-year-old heroine and her mother's 37-year-old boyfriend, Monroe Rutherford (played by Alexander Skarsgard). This relationship is the key to the Pandora's Box of Minnie's somewhat dangerous adolescent exploits. Although it would be legally accurate to view Monroe as a sexual predator taking advantage of a young naive girl, the line between "predator" and "lover" becomes blurred as the story progresses and we realize that Monroe is perhaps more of a child than Minnie herself.
"Love" is certainly not the term I would use in describing this relationship, although this is how Minnie defines her feelings towards Monroe in her cassette-recorded diary. This being said, I would not categorize Monroe as a "predator" - which is certainly how I viewed him at the beginning of the film. By the end of the movie, I realized that Minnie seemed more of an adult than her older companion. She had changed in ways that Monroe could not. She learned from her experiences and from her mistakes, and she grew wiser with each lesson.
As The New York Times review stated, Heller (the writer/director) aimed to leave the interpretation of this film open:
"[...Heller] doesn't judge the party. She leaves that to her viewers, assuming that they come to this movie with their own ideas on the subject. She knows you can fill in all kinds of narrative blanks."
In doing this she remained neutral in her depiction of each character in order to allow the viewer to form his or her own opinion. This is only one of the many traits that makes this film an incredible work of art, and I encourage everyone to experience it for him or her self.