The Diary of a Teenage Girl: a generic title too far?

I really didn’t want to like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, the 94%-on-Rotten-Tomatoes coming of age film du moment. I think part of it lay in the non-specificity of the title; as an intersectional feminist who grew up hoping to be reincarnated as either a) a Malibu Barbie or b) Slash, I’m wary of anything claiming to be the “one true female experience TM”. Take Girls, for example, a show which bears the world’s most universal title whilst chronicling the world of a very specific, chronically anxious type of New Yorker, inhabiting a world circumscribed by a very specific, chronically anxious New Yorker. Even the title of Lena Dunham’s autobiography – Not That Kind Of Girl – sets her up as an other to some prefigured definition of US-centric millennial promiscuity. If Lena Dunham – straight, white, able-bodied, liberal yet loaded – is the other in Western culture for talking about mental health and getting her tits out (important shit, I concede, but let me rant a little) then what hope is there for all those other voices out there?! I say this as somebody who raced through NTKOG and Caitlin Moran’s books nodding her head with as much vigour as I did when reading Roxane Gay’s. I don’t want other women to enter into check-your-privilege-themed Twitter beef. However, I also say this as someone who balks a little at the former two’s penchant for one-size-fits-all titles, when the content of such works is often deeply individual.

So, onto The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Presented sans Lolita-esque male gaze by a female director, Marielle Heller, it is a brilliant film about sex, getting your heart slowly unseamed and all of the terrible bits in between. It’s a piece about growing up that both recent arrivals into adulthood like myself and others still enduring that awkward, Impulse-scented phase can relate to in equal measure. In case I haven’t already made it clear, I loved it. Brit actress Bel Powley is wide-eyed and probing as Minnie, a 15-year-old struggling with millenia-old virgin/whore tropes as she embarks on a love affair with her mother’s boyfriend. Although it’s set in the 70s, the message is current, and completely believable for a young audience bombarded with contradictory messages and pressures. As such, the specificity of the title is – on reflection – of a market of solidarity rather than superiority. Minnie’s life as a white teenage girl at a “hippy” school in San Francisco isn’t held up as the only teenage life or the most important or even the most relevant. Rather, it figures as a knowing composite of some of the things – scary, exciting, revelatory, crushing – that can happen in any young woman’s life. There are many relatable aspects to Minnie’s tale, even if – on a superficial level – it might seem an unrepresentative portrait of girlhood.

Generic film/book/series titles will probably continue to annoy me. Maybe it’s just a personal thing, like preferring green apples over red, or my irrational hatred of beach sliders. Perhaps it’s an extension of my annoyance at having to reconcile all the (wildly different) parts of my identity under the “young woman” umbrella, as I once did with “teenage girl”. That said, I can probably make an exception for something as rare and beautifully retro as Heller’s film. That so many teenage girls won’t get to see it in the cinema due to the kthanksbye attitude of the BBFC, who rated it an 18, only emphasises how misconstrued so many of our experiences really are.


Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgård as Minnie and Monroe. Credit: Sony Pictures Classics

Hungry, hungry, sad fandom

(Woo welcome to my blog! As part of a meta twist/late April Fool’s joke I’m going to set the post date to 31st March and we can pretend I blogged on time. Now, prepare to travel back in time).

“Katniss has a fat ass”.

 …”For a starving girl, Katniss had a fat face”.

“Jennifer lawrence is too fat and emotionless to play katnissNot calling her fat but katniss is supposed to be STARVING cmon”.

…”Katniss Everdeen had a fat ass”.

The Hunger Games isn’t the type of film I’d normally get excited about. It wasn’t made twenty/thirty years ago; it doesn’t have any ‘cult’ actors in it (although Jennifer Lawrence was on the cover of last month’s Glamour, woop!); it’s not in a foreign-language; there are no murders, not even an attempted murder. There’s not even a wise but intelligible oldie giving out laboured advice about the correlation between power and great responsibility. There’s too much action, its too long and the idea of kids killing each other is a bit abstract, especially when Lawrence is wearing a fresh coat of mascara every few scenes….but it works. What doesn’t work, however, is using a film where a viewer has to not only suspend their disbelief but also to forget all logic entirely, as ammo for a real world debate about what size young women “should” be. In short, it is essentially what we were all berating Joseph Kony for doing a few weeks ago, plus a bit of Lenny Kravitz sporting gold eyeshadow, minus any common sense, to the power of Lady Gaga and mutiplied by trackerjackers and mockingjays (sorry if I’ve lost you there).

In amongst this mad menagerie, there was still time for a group of fans to poison the Twitter waters with the message that Lawrence was too “big “to play Katniss from poverty-stricken District 12. D’oh! Not once in 142 minutes did I question whether Jennifer Lawrence should be playing Katniss, and even questioning her weight seems to denote too much time spent missing the point. Plus, you’re not meant to get angry and political in the cinema. It’s a fact. (That’s why they sell nachos, sweet popcorn and Fanta. These foods dissolve your brain cells into docile molecules. That’s why we laugh at unfunny commercials from Orange and cry during Katherine Heigl films, it’s all science).

Exhibit A: a fat person. I'm not condoning calling people fat, but this person is not thin, and if she were to play a starving person... then this would be possibly more crass and insensitive than being used as an example of a fat person on someone's blog. It would still, however, be crass and insensitive for someone to Tweet that this person was fat (gottit?).

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games": the awkward moment when you're a fictional, dystopian universe...

I digress – the problem here seems to lie with fans of the original trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins – a US writer specialising in Young Adult fiction – descending on cinemas to pick holes in the film adaptation. The same people have taken to the internet to spout nonsense which has even extended to racist comments about the casting, as explored in detail here by Bim Adewunmi for The Guardian.

It’s great to see new and exciting literary series’ being developed for tweens and younger teens, especially as the last few years have been, for the most part, a bipartisan contest between Harry Potter and Twilight. I remember in the not-so-distant past picking up enthralling adventure novels like the Wind On Fire trilogy by William Nicholson or Burning Issy by Melvin Burgess and being absorbed into fantasy worlds where superficial conventions about weight or race are often challenged via extended metaphors. In the case of The Hunger Games, I can’t be too sure about it’s original meaning, as I didn’t read the source material. On screen, however, it seemed to show the importance of friendship and loyalty, whilst underlining the dangerously superficial nature of the media and rich sponsors to whom – spoiler alert – Katniss and Peeta must play up their relationship to in order to win support, and ultimately to become victors. Presumably this was the point of the first novel in the series too, and any changes can surely be deemed inevitable – after all, what was the last film adaptation you saw which was identical to the book? With such an exciting story, a cast consisting almost entirely of PYTs and rising stars, and a moral message too, how ironic it is then, that the wishlist of so many morons consisted of a) a whitewashed cast and b) an emaciated lead. The fact that this “mainstream” view panders to society’s most dangerous tropes must be a coincidence.

mar/apr PLAYLIST

Stuff I’ve had on repeat:

Let It Go – Fossil Collective – The story behind the above video? “A tragic ballooning accident separates two lovebirds, and the story follows the male character as he’s stuck on a island trying to build his way to the moon to rescue his love”. Stop-motion animation is rarely so heartstoppingly poignant, matching the chilled yet soul-searching vintage sounds of Leeds duo Fossil Collective. Their upcoming EP (June’s “Let It Go via Dirty Hit) is sure to be the perfect relic.

Suffocation – Heath Remix, Crystal Castles – a dark , dirty companion to 2010’s original track, this remix is aural asphyxiation. Punning words aside, two years without new CC material equals impatient fans.

Come On Be A No-one – The Cribs – No more Johnny Marr…but a new track with vigour and attitude. 70% Buzzcocks, 30% amped-up UK grunge which we always knew the brothers Jarman did best. C.O.B.A.N premiered on Vice’s new music channel Noisey , upping the band’s cool credentials ever further.

Jaan Pehechaan Ho – it’s been on the Heineken ad. It’s been in Ghost World. It’s so cool to listen to whilst wearing harem pants and burning incense and being a rah (just kidding on the last one).

HJ x

ps here’s something I wrote for The Guardian Guide