Review by Ken Burke
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller)
A 15-year-old in 1976 San Francisco suddenly finds her boring, constricted life changed when she starts having sex; however, her joy at bodily pleasure has a major complication in that her most regular partner is also her divorced mother’s boyfriend so what begins as a revelation with added animation enhancements soon becomes much more traumatic.
Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews. Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up. Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
To me, a film with so many sordid characters and unleashed behaviors, rife with pathos, deserved more than a litany of manipulative sexual escapades and toxic relationships with a patronizing token few moments of a ‘happy ending, everything's all right now.’”
As the narrative eventually winds down in Mistress America, we get the sense that Tracy and Brooke have enjoyed the ultimate results of their confrontations as well, with Tracy, like Minnie, also having to grow up quickly in an environment where she has no role models (her mother’s a lot more caring than is Charlotte Goetze, but this mom’s got her own life to manage at a time when Tracy needs to find a useful path for herself, especially in a complicated environment like NYC where she could easily be led astray by any number of lovers, muggers, and thieves [oh, wait, that’s Boston—from The Standells’ “Dirty Water,” a 1966 hit—but those terms and their allied considerations could easily be applied to Tracy’s new home as well so you might as well take another sideways distraction and listen to it if you like, as long as you’re not a New Yorker or Bostonian who can’t abide the idea that anything about the one city could stand in for the other; even if so, you shouldn’t get too upset because the musicians were from CA anyway]). Brooke definitely realizes as she approaches 30 that she can no longer get by on just self-assurance, autodidact learning, and interesting ideas that she can’t see to fruition (she also is coming to know that at times her sunny disposition, her ongoing celebration of life—where she’s a much of a bar-mentor to Tracy as Charlotte’s became for Minnie—and her creative thinking aren’t always enough to counter the irrational wickedness of someone like Mamie-Claire, who admits to Tracy that she did steal the T-shirt idea from Brooke just because she doesn’t like her, a situation exacerbated by Brooke’s initial stalking of Dylan and Mamie-Claire in retaliation for the loss of the earlier relationship). For me, the insights aren’t as fully intriguing in Mistress America as in The Diary of a Teenage Girl, given that anyone with the ability to get into college then stay there for the education to be offered soon has to find that their more-cloistered-teenage-worldview (even if they're in the reigning campus cliques) needs to be rethought, probably largely put aside as more-encompassing-understandings emerge, just as anyone approaching 30 with still no clear foundation to build on surely is aware of such limitations even if it takes some dramatic event to push forward an emergence from hanging-on-too-long-to-adolescence into a life of more-responsible-future-plans.
Catcher in the Rye and relate to Holden Caulfield. When I read Phoebe’s book I thought this is how boys must feel when reading Catcher in the Rye. So, why can’t boys watch this movie and relate to Minnie? It’s a two-way street. Sexuality is something we’re both experiencing and so if one side’s perspective is reflected, the other side should be reflected too.” Of course, when that “other side” is sex play where Minnie invites Kimmie to join her and Monroe (which she’s quite willing to do) or when Charlotte, remembering her own sexual allure (“When I was your age, I was quite a piece.”)—resulting in Minnie at far too early an age for her mother—has no better sense than to spend some of the $1,000 that Minnie and Gretel convince Pascal to send (after Mom loses her library job) to finance a drug party for her friends (along with Minnie and Kimmie), you can see where this double-dollop of debauchery might leave some of Heller’s audience aghast at what happens when the “girls” (including Charlotte, in attitude if not age) put on the catcher’s mitt. For me, though, this film isn’t celebrating debauchery or claiming that Minnie’s better off for having plunged into her many sexual escapades; instead, I see it as a precautionary tale, warning sex-curious-teens to think clearly about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it (along with how, as I don’t recall pregnancy protection in any of Minnie’s encounters), especially if they’re getting next-to-nothing as guidance from their elders (as Minnie says, in final VO: “This is for all the girls, when they have grown.”)
(also available here, although I think you have to be a print or electronic subscriber like me to get the full text) where a reader states “that I find myself wishing I was born 30 or 40 years earlier in order to inhabit the same world as the [young] characters” of a favorite film (I’ve often had this thought about at least briefly existing in the 1930s environment of Chinatown despite the rampant racism, sexism, and other social restrictions that permeated that period; the entire aura of that film’s milieu beckons to me nevertheless). LaSalle responds: “In the end—unless there’s a war or some terrible privation—every era is a great era in which to be young. The challenge of youth is to recognize the splendor that’s in front of you … Thirty years from now, you’re going to see a movie that captures the glory of 2015, and you’ll wish you were there … You’re in a better movie right now, and it’s happening on all sides of you. Don’t miss it.” This is the advice that Minnie, Tracy, and Brooke needed to internalize; we have good reason to hope that the latter 2 almost-sisters are awakening to that invaluable insight, we can only hope that it happens for Minnie (and, maybe someday, her mother) as well.
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P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.