The execution of Diary is vey well done--artistically and movingly rendered; however, the way the material is handled by writer/director Marielle Heller leaves much to be desired. Apart from the beautiful palette, the clever animated cartoons, and the appealing main character, the story turns out to be a sad, sordid one with no responsible adult in sight. And because of that, it's hard for me to believe a young woman could turn out as well as the protagonist does in the film. More likely she wouldn't be able to rise above her experiences and learn from them--as Minnie did--or worse could have resorted to more desperate measures to escape her life.
The three main actors—Powley, Skarsgard, and Wiig—are gifted in their art and seamlessly portray their characters here. As Charlotte the mother, Wiig shows her to be so narcissistic and shallow it's impossible for her to provide maternal care and devotion to her two daughters, despite her good looks and charming personality. She has even conveyed to her older child that Minnie will never measure up to her, particularly in looks. And in the end she has a plan for Minnie that will make her to be just as unhappy as she is.
Skarsgard aces the role of the immature male Monroe who seems only to have enough ambition to retire early. He's always ready with an excuse for his bad behavior ("I have needs too" "I'm only human"), usually in the realm of blaming others.
Powley is amazing in her characterization of confused teenager Minnie needing guidance but not realizing it. She's able to be the sexy young woman and child of wonder, while still posing existential arguments within herself.
While the actors are very good, this is a difficult film to watch. It’s like reading someone else’s diary and feeling like a snoop. Yet, I believe that it is a realistic picture of how a budding young girl and an older man can get started in an affair, especially in the context of an oblivious mother and an undisciplined man. Only once is there a responsible adult intervening (and even he does not discuss what he has found out with the girl; he tells her mother, his ex-wife) and at no time is statutory rape mentioned. The girl is left to figure things out for herself on her own.
Diary was a hit at Sundance, and it’s praised for giving a tell-all account of a teenage girl’s life. I just wish some material had been included that would show some positive influences on Minnie to help her get to the place she did.
A peek at a teenage girl’s inner life and risky behavior.
Grade: B- By Donna R. Copeland