Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rapid Reviews: The Diary of a Teenage Girl and Mistress America

This weekend marks the theatrical release for one of the year's most talked about festival darlings, The Diary of a Teenage Girl. With critics and independent film lovers jointly voicing their approval for Marielle Heller's teen drama, needless to say I was eager to experience the movie for myself.

Newcomer Bel Powley stars as Minnie, an aspiring teen artist who has her first sexual encounter with her mother's boyfriend, Monroe (Alex Skarsgard). While they continue to sneak around engaging in a physical relationship with one another, Minnie confesses the dirty details of her taboo story to a cassette recorder. But as she comes to terms with her new-found sexual appetite and intense feelings for Monroe, Minnie soon discovers that the only person she needs approval from is herself.

Based on the Phoebe Gloeckner diaristic graphic novel of the same name, The Diary of a Teenage Girl paints a brutally honest picture of youth and finding one's sexuality. However, an overly devoted tribute to the novel from director Marielle Heller leads to an unconventional approach that's both unappealing and unnecessary. The frequent inclusion of cartoon animation and illustrations create a diversion from the earnest story at the film's core. And while The Diary of a Teenage Girl unapologetically journeys to some very dark places in a spiraling manner that's probably much better suited for a novel, at least the movie does a commendable job of wrapping a meaningful message around a flawed exterior.

Stars: 2 stars out of 4

Grade: C+

American filmmaker Noah Baumbach must be a busy man. After the release of his successful comedy, While We're Young, starring Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts earlier this year, Baumbach returns quickly with the indie film, Mistress America. While Baumbach and his film's co-star, Greta Gerwig, have a long-standing collaborative history together, this latest work represents another winning effort by the duo.

Tracy (played by Lola Kirke) is an out of place college freshman in New York who desperately craves some fun and excitement. So when she reluctantly reaches out to her eccentric soon-to-be sister in-law, Brooke (Gerwig), Tracy finds exactly the influence she's been seeking. Brooke's rapid quips and unrelenting zest for life become a vital source for Tracy's writing career and an inspiration for breaking out of her shell.

Mistress America is an oddball indie comedy that works on many levels but never fully branches out from its own self-limiting absurd clutches. Greta Gerwig has developed into a versatile performer who shines in what would normally feel like an unfitting role. Her exuberance comes to life through the witty screenplay of Noah Baumbach that delivers countless quotable one-liners. Despite a third act that toes the line of believable and outlandish, Mistress America overcomes this wacky finale and stands out as another winning effort from Baumbach.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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