Back to School Part II #47: The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir by Marielle Heller)


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Sometimes, the best way to defend a controversial film is to take a look at some of the people who have criticized it.  That’s certainly the case with 2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

First off, you have so-called critic and professional troll Jeff Wells, who landed in some hot water when he complained that the star of the film, Bel Powley, wasn’t attractive enough for him.  Never mind that he thought the rest of the film was intriguing, he simply could not get over the fact that Powley was not conventionally attractive.  Never mind, of course, that Powley (who was 23 at the time) was supposed to be playing a 15 year-old and that she gave one of the best and most honest performances of the year or that the film itself was about much more than just sex.  Jeff Wells wasn’t turned on and therefore, by his logic, the film failed.

And then you have Sasha Stone, the editor of Awards Daily.  Sasha claims to be a feminist and uses her site to regularly scold any actress who she thinks isn’t living up to Sasha’s idea of what a feminist should be.  Sasha is the same blogger who announced that her life mission was to “educate” Shailene Woodley and who threatened to never again report on any of Susan Sarandon’s movies because Sarandon was critical of Hillary Clinton.  Oddly enough, Sasha is also the online film community’s number one enabler of Jeff Wells, regularly providing cover for him whenever he makes one of his patented misogynistic remarks.

Anyway, Sasha absolutely hated The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  In fact, she hated it to such an extent that she’s probably still cursing about it on twitter.  Oddly enough, Sasha has never really stated why she hates Diary with such a passion.  I mean, here we have an honest film about coming-of-age, one that ends on a note of empowerment.  It’s a film that was both written and directed by a woman and it’s based on a graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.  This is an important film.  As far as I can tell, it appears that Sasha’s hatred was linked to the fact that apparently, she saw the film in a theater that was full of men and she felt that this film was specifically designed to appeal to “dirty old men.”

Which is bullshit.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m sure there are dirty old men who went to see The Diary of a Teenage Girl.  That’s just a fact of life.  When you have a film about a sexually active 15 year-old, it is going to attract certain people.  That, however, is not the film’s fault.  In fact, the film’s straight-forward approach to sexuality was probably the exact opposite of what most of those pervs were looking for.

The film’s protagonist is Minnie Goetze (played, as previously stated, by Bel Powley).  In 1976, she is 15 years old and living in San Francisco with her irresponsible (and, as becomes apparent as the film plays out, rather unstable) mother (Kristin Wiig).  Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist, an independent and intelligent teenager who often feels as if she’s separated from the rest of the world.  (The film makes good use of animation to visualize Minnie’s isolation.)  After losing her virginity to him, Minnie ends up having an affair with her mother’s handsome loser of a boyfriend (played by Alexander Skarsgard)….

When The Diary of a Teenage Girl was first released, so much attention was paid to the fact that 15 year-old Minnie was sexually active and frequently seen using drugs that many reviewers missed the fact that the film ultimately celebrates Minnie’s intelligence, independence, and her imagination.  Speaking for myself, after sitting through a countless number of teen films which either idealized virginity or insisted on punishing any sexually active teen with either pregnancy or an STD, The Diary of a Teenage Girl was actually a welcome change of pace.

Unfortunately, many critics have made the mistake of assuming that just because The Diary of a Teenage Girl does not judge, it therefore supports all of Minnie’s decisions.  Despite what some critics claim, Diary of a Teenage Girl does not glamorize anything that Minnie does.  (Many of the film’s sex scenes are deliberately filmed to be as unerotic as possible.)  At the same time, the film doesn’t feel the need to dispense out any sort of karmic punishment, either.  Instead, it’s a film that suggests that Minnie, like everyone else, is exploring and trying to discover what’s right for her.  In the end, the message of this film is that the most important thing is to love yourself and to find your own happiness.  And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an engrossing and well-made coming-of-age story.  I can’t wait to see what director Marielle Heller does next.

 

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #16: The Cheerleader Murders (dir by David Jackson)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 10th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

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The 16th film on my DVR was The Cheerleader Murders and what can I say other than, “Yay!”  No, no — it’s not that I dislike cheerleaders.  While I did frequently turn down the chance to become a cheerleader while I was in high school, that was solely because my sister, our own Dazzling Erin, was already a cheerleader and I was going through one of my “I want to be known for being myself” phases.  No, I was excited about rewatching The Cheerleader Murders because I remembered that this was one of the best films to ever premiere on Lifetime!

As I started to watch The Cheerleader Murders, I found myself wondering whether it would stand up to a second viewing.

Well, it more than stood up.  If anything, The Cheerleader Murders is even better the second time around!

The Cheerleader Murders plays out like an odd combination of YA fiction and disturbing horror.  The film opens with a few scenes of disaster and what’s interesting is that, while all of the scenes are tragic, they’re also darkly humorous.  We see a car full of cheerleaders and jocks crash, killing everyone inside.  We see the prom king and queen falling to their death while trying to get the perfect selfie.  As these disasters play out, we hear our narrator, Ellie (Samantha Boscarino), explaining that her hometown is cursed.  It’s all so cheerfully morbid that, from the minute it began, I was in love with this film.

What’s that?  Oh, you don’t believe that Ellie and her town are cursed?  Well, just consider this.  When Ellie was thirteen, her older sister broke up with her boyfriend.  So the boyfriend broke into the house, killed her sister, and then shot Ellie’s father as Ellie watched!

THAT’S A CURSE RIGHT THERE!

Jump forward three years later.  Ellie is now a 16 year-old cheerleader.  She’s popular and she’s also a good student.  Though you have to wonder about the standards of her high school because she goes to one of those Lifetime high schools where no one ever has to actually go to class or anything like that.  Instead, everyone hangs out at the lockers and gossips.  Even better, if you do go to class, you can apparently just walk out whenever you want.  This happens several times during this film and we never actually hear a teacher say anything like, “Wait!  You can’t just stand up and walk out of class just because your friend is motioning to you from the hallway!”

Ellie has everything but she’s still convinced that she’s cursed.  If she’s not cursed then how do you explain the mysterious disappearance of two her fellow cheerleaders?  Admittedly, one of the cheerleaders is found rather quickly.  Or, I should say, her bloody, severed foot is found rather quickly.  Someone spots it off the side of the road.  (The camera zooms in on the big toe so that we can see the heart that she painted on her the nail.  That’s the type of cheerfully over-the-top film that The Cheerleader Murders is.)  The other cheerleader eventually shows up in orange grove, being chased by a masked man with a huge knife.

Like any good YA heroine, Ellie is determined to solve the mystery.  Fortunately, she has help.  Her dead father shows up occasionally and offers up cryptic advice.  Ellie also has frequent dreams, some of which are rather dark and disturbing by Lifetime standards.

The more that Ellie digs into the mystery, the more obvious it becomes that she knows absolutely no one who isn’t sleazy or insane.  Who killed the cheerleaders?  Was it the school weirdo or the two jealous nerds who are always gossiping about the dead?  Maybe it was the coach, who was apparently having an affair with both a cheerleader and Ellie’s favorite teacher.  Or perhaps that teacher got jealous and decided to seek revenge!  And, come to think of it, Ellie’s boyfriend seems like he might have some issues too.  And, of course, there’s Ellie.  Who is to say that the curse hasn’t driven her insane?  It’s hard not to notice that, whenever the killer strikes, Ellie is usually riding her bicycle right past the crime scene.

One of the more interesting things about the film is that no one else at the high school seems to be that upset over the dead cheerleaders.  The school year goes on.  The remaining cheerleaders continue to cheer at all the football games and, with the exception of Ellie, nobody even seems to shed a single tear over all the teenagers dying in town.  Along with the ghosts and the nightmares and the constant shots of Ellie intensely riding her bicycle from crime scene to crime scene, all of this conspires to give The Cheerleader Murders an oddly surreal feel.

The Cheerleader Murders is one of my favorite Lifetime film because it literally has no boundaries.  There is no moment too over-the-top that this film cannot find an excuse to include it.  The acting is good, the horror (and there is horror) is effective, and the mystery is cheerfully ludicrous.  Make sure you catch The Cheerleader Murders the next time it’s on Lifetime because seriously, this film is a classic!

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(By the way, I made Erin watch The Cheerleader Murders with me when it originally aired.  She said it was actually a pretty accurate portrayal of the life of a cheerleader, except for the murders.)