1995 Project: La Ceremonie, Casino, Dead Man

dead man

Just one week before the 1995 Project is over…

laceremonieposterLa Cérémonie (directed by Claude Chabrol)
Chabrol was one of the pioneers of the French New Wave, as important a movement as any in cinema history. I must admit I was completely unfamiliar with his work before watching this movie. Based only on this movie, he strikes me as a very European director, and not necessarily as cinematically revolutionary as Godard or Truffaut. La Cérémonie fits very well into the tradition of European (particularly french) dramas that deal with class tensions brewing. Sandrine Bonnaire stars as a newly hired maid at a country estate, and Isabelle Huppert is the radical young woman who sparks her standing up to the family she works for.

It’s a surprisingly uneventful movie as a thriller, and cold as a romance. It is something much more opaque, and that’s a good thing. It’s interesting not knowing exactly what side Chabrol is on. It’s fun to wonder whether this is a story about social justice, bourgeois fears, or young passionate romance. The disappointing part comes in the characters’ psychology which is too opaque to give us enough clues as to what is going on. Bonnaire and Huppert do a great job, but as much as I want to dissect the movie, I don’t think it gives me the necessary tools to do so.

casinoposterCasino (directed by Martin Scorsese)
Time for an unpopular opinion: I think Scorsese might be the most overrated director that has ever lived. That might be a little extreme, but the truth is most of his movies don’t do much for me. This is particularly true when we talk about what I call his “success and excess” trilogy: Goodfellas, Casino, and The Wolf of Wall Street, a triumvirate that suffers from the same ailments while looking at the luxurious corruption of the American dream through the prism of organized crime and the stock exchange.

The biggest flaw with these movies is that you don’t really need to see them to know what they’re all about. They take three hours to make the most obvious and predictable points you could make about the kind of characters they are depicting. There is nothing the movie tells me that I didn’t know it was going to tell me before watching it. In the case of Casino in particular, I don’t think there is any point in the movie that hasn’t either been made before, or made in a better way since. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci do solid work, and some sequences are fun, but the best movie about Las Vegas released in 1995 is obviously Showgirls

Also, the way Don Rickles is underutilized in this movie is a crime.

deadmanposterDead Man (directed by Jim Jarmusch)
Sometime around the second half of the twentieth century, Hollywood stopped producing western en masse. That’s the moment when every western made by an American director became a piece of commentary not only on the cowboy genre, but on the history of America as a whole. Of all these revisionist westerns, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man offers the most unique take on the history of America and the frontier of the wild west. Johnny Depp stars as an accountant from Cleveland who travels out west to accept a job that is not being offered, become an accidental outlaw, and be chased through the wilderness until he finds his way to the next life.

Aided by beautiful black and white cinematography by Robby Müller and an anachronistic guitar score by Neil Young, Jarmusch turns the Old West into a land of contemporary sensibilities, of rough men who are as aware about mundane life and celebrity as the audience watching. The most obvious point of comparison is Pilgrim’s Progress -taking into account the main character is named William Blake- but does this journey really lead anywhere? This is a fatalistic, anachronistic, and darkly hilarious movie. Needless to say, the movie ends with death, but it is neither tragic nor heavenly. Jarmusch loves to make movies about empty lives. In this case, he made a movie about an empty country.

A Woman Undone: A Review of Alex Ross Perry’s ‘Queen of Earth’

Queen of Earth

The first thing you realize when you watch an Alex Ross Perry movie, is that he is one of the most purely talented directors working today. Most specifically, he is particularly gifted in the postmodern art of parsing through decades of past filmmaker’s work and combining the most pertinent images with a modern sensibility all his own. One superficial, but hugely telling, sign of this talent is how his movies might have the graphic and sonic quality of a seventies production, but take place in contemporary settings.

His latest Queen of Earth, like last year’s Listen Up Philip, starts out with tight handheld close-ups of its protagonist followed by a retro title card. Unlike Philip, which continued with a dynamic move of people storming in and out of heated arguments, this movie is confined to a single set, and finds Perry experimenting with static compositions as he delves into the more uncomfortable corners of his protagonist.

Considering the movie as a whole, the first shot becomes an announcement of the director’s intensions. In that first scene we get an extended close-up of Catherine (Elisabeth Moss), as she deals with the immediate ramifications of breaking up with her boyfriend. We later learn that they had developed a symbiotic relationship where there is no distinction between “you” and “I”, but it’s all a matter of “we.” Needless to say, Catherine is not taking the break-up very well, so she retreats to her best friend Virginia’s (Katherine Waterston) country house in upstate New York. That’s when things start to get really weird, and fantasy becomes reality as Catherine’s grief destroys her psyche.

Catherine is the center of practically every scene in the movie, as Perry dives into an increasingly microscopic examination of the character’s inner life. By the end, we are all but inside the character’s head, but that doesn’t make us understand her any better. If anything, we are more confused. The intense and spare score, and the extreme sound design disorient us. We don’t know what is real and what isn’t. We only see the flashing lights and the intense close-ups. Everything is as heightened and overwhelming as it is in Catherine’s head.

This proves to be a notably clever way to approach the material. Perry focuses ever so definitely on Catherine’s inner life, while Catherine is frenetically obsessed with the world around her, and especially with the way people perceive her. Not only has she just gone through a bad break-up, but the break-up came soon after the death of her father, who she was really close to. Now that both her lover and her father, the two defining people (men) in her life, have disappeared, this woman is completely undone. She is set free, and she doesn’t recognize herself. She is seeing the dark side of the world. How can she survive?

In strictly aesthetic terms, I prefer Perry’s previous movie. Queen of Earth can often feel very slow, but it will be a rewarding experience for any viewer who get a kick out of analyzing specific shots, lines of dialogue, and other such details. It’s a movie whose true nature will only reveal itself after one sits down to think what it all really means. In contrast, Listen Up Philip played with a very entertaining (if sometimes painful) approach to comedy, which is not to say there is no comedy in Queen of Earth. In fact, there are long stretches during which the movie plays as much as a dark comedy as anything else.

In the lead role, Moss gives one of the best performances of the year, and she is particularly great during these “comedic” sequences. Her timing is flawless (helped perhaps by her seven year tenure on Mad Men), and as intensely convincing as she is in her more dramatic breakdown scenes, she is even more impressive when she dives head-on into the darkest, most perverted lines of Perry’s screenplay. Her psychotic delivery is reminiscent, in how hilarious and poignant it manages to be at the same time, to the kind of humor we saw earlier this year in the equally impressive The Duke of Burgundy

I would be lying if I didn’t say that Queen of Earth sometimes feels more like an exercise than it does a well-rounded movie. The meanings and implications of what exactly is being said seem a little too obtuse for my taste. That being said, you couldn’t find a more successful exercise than this one. If this was meant to be a showcase for Moss and Perry’s talent, then they have crafted themselves one of the most impressive calling cards I have ever seen. And even if I find the movie too murky right now, I should keep in my mind how fast and exponentially Listen Up Philip grew in my estimation in the months after I first saw it.

Grade: 7 out of 10

1995 Project: Heat, Se7en, and The White Balloon

SevenThe 1995 Project is almost over. I just have a handful of movies I want to catch up with before I determine what were the best movies movies to come out twenty years ago and I move on to another cinematic year. For now, here’s some thoughts on three very significant releases:

heatposterHeat (directed by Michael Mann)
Michael Mann is a director who has gained a very exclusive and very vocal group of fans in the past couple decades, and Heat definitely seems to be the moment with which Mann emerged as the overly obsessive, stylizing, and digital director we think of when his name is pronounced in 2015. There is no denying that Mann’s attention to detail resulted in an original style that is unmistakably his own, but I can’t help but be underwhelmed by his work. His eye for detail is unparalleled, but in service of what?

Sometimes subtitled “An L.A. Crime Saga”, Heat is a two hours and fifty minute long epic about a heist criminal (Robert De Niro) and the cop trying to catch him (Al Pacino). A total boy movie, and a very boring one at that. There is nothing less engaging than a brooding Michael Mann protagonist who must endure his dangerous lifestyle because he is a man, dammit, and that’s the only thing he can do. It doesn’t help that I can’t for the life of me figure out what Mann is trying to engage with thematically. His defenders might say that the movie is not interested in character, that it’s all about the visuals and the quality of the filmmaking which, yes, from cinematography to sound design, is technically exquisite. I just have no use whatsoever for a story so prehistorically tired all the style in the world couldn’t make it interesting.

sevenposterSe7en (directed by David Fincher)
After the disaster that was the production of Alien3, prolific music video director David Fincher got the chance not only to redeem himself with his second feature, but to announce himself as a unique young voice with philosophical interests much deeper than his dark and edgy style would suggest. More so than the stylish but somewhat immature movies that followed it, Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Seven provides a sublime source to explore the themes that would define Fincher’s career as a filmmaker, and that wouldn’t appear as prominently in his filmography until his first masterpiece, Zodiac

At this point I have revealed the fact that I don’t consider Seven to be a masterpiece, but it is still a great movie, and one of Fincher’s best (I’m one of those people for whom Fincher bats about 50/50 between fascinating and underwhelming movies). This one just seems tailor-made for his style, focusing on the darker side of the director’s nihilistic worldview. It’s an incredibly dour movie, that puts the whole value of the world and the nature of humanity on the scale, and comes up with some pretty scary conclusions. At the same time, though, it’s a fantastically crafted thriller, with all of its technical elements working beautifully from start to finish, anchored by Darius Khondji’s cinematography and two more than solid lead performances by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman.

If there is anything that I don’t love about Seven, is that the twisty nature of the story doesn’t let us fully grasp the darkness of its philosophy until the very last moments of the movie. It is quite a shock when it comes, and makes for a very effective movie, but it does leave me with the desire to see Fincher expand on the piece’s nihilism. I think, for example, of how similar philosophical territory was wonderfully explored by the Coen brothers in No Country for Old Men many years later. That is, in my opinion, the only thing keeping Seven a great movie instead of a masterpiece.

the white balloon posterThe White Balloon (directed by Jafar Panahi)
If there is a big cinematic story to the 1990s, it’s probably a tie between the boom of independent American filmmaking as well as the emergence of Iranian cinema into the international landscape. The biggest name to come out of this movement is undoubtedly Abbas Kiarostami, and if Kiarostami is Iran’s Truffaut, then Jafar Panahi is its Godard. Just like in the case of those frenchmen, Kiarostami wrote the script for Panahi’s debut as a director, a seemingly simple story about the complications a little girl faces when trying to buy a goldfish on the streets of Teheran.

It’s as ordinary as a movie’s premise could get, yet it is absolutely magical. Such is the magic of the best Iranian cinema of these masters. Panahi presents this story as a children’s book where we travel through the city and have episodic encounters with its many inhabitants. The focus is always on the girl protagonist, but as the plot moves forward, a complex portrait of a moving city has been indadvertedly painted, and the story of simple childhood wishes on the eve of celebration reveals, in its last couple minutes, to be a much more bittersweet, complex, and critical adventure than it was at first glance.

Bringing Up Gerwig: A Review of Noah Baumbach’s ‘Mistress America’

mistress america

Talking about Mistress America is talking about two talented auteurs collaborating at the top of their game and creating what might very well be their masterpiece.

In the most traditional “auteur theory” corner, you have director Noah Baumbach, who I’ve only recently realized is one of the most talented filmmakers working today. More specifically, he is one of the most talented human observers working today. On paper, Baumbach’s movies can be dismissed as entries in the tired genre of big city intellectual-types having problems dealing with their privilege. In practice, however, they reveal an uncanny observer behind the camera, a man with the talent to parse through common life experiences looking for the most exact and biting gestures. Once they’re in his movies, these gestures paint the characters in a portrait so rich it makes the limitations of other phony directors working in the genre look even worse by comparison.

The other auteur is Greta Gerwig, commonly referred to as the “indie queen”. A title of dubious intention, that nevertheless gives us a hint to how exactly Gerwig fits in a world of up-and-coming female actors, writers, and directors that are making a living telling stories about their experiences as young women in the big city. Gerwig stands out within this group as a supremely confident figure, not so much a realist portrait of a woman finding her identity through self-doubt, but an idealized figure ruled by fun and confidence over the more chaotic aspects of her personality. It was the refreshing life force of Gerwig’s persona that made the previous collaboration between Gerwig and Baumbach, Frances Haso appealing, and it’s that very same image that they set out to explore in Mistress America. 

In strict terms, the protagonist of the movie is eighteen year-old college freshman Tracy (Lola Kirke), who is overwhelmed by her new life in an elitist Columbia University campus that is more preoccupied with pretentious appearances than actual people. It’s in the middle of this emotional crisis that Tracy reaches out to Brooke (Greta Gerwig), a thirtysomething living in the city whose dad is engaged to Tracy’s mom. Brooke is a concentrated dose of Gerwig’s star personality. She would be overwhelmingly quirky if she wasn’t so magnetically hilarious. She’s an autodidact who jumps from concert to bar to party spouting little bits of wisdom. Tracy is immediately smitten with admiration.

Thusly begins a sisterhood and a friendship that feels a lot like an apprenticeship. Every minute Tracy spends with Brooke reveals more wonderful sides to her life and personality. Hanging out with her becomes addictive, and we can’t blame Tracy. Even though we can spot some of Brooke’s more ridiculous claims more easily than doe-eyed Tracy can, there is no denying that there is something seductive about seeing such a hurricane of a woman make her way through life. Brooke has spent a lot of time crafting her image (“people need to know what you’re selling”), but it is an image nevertheless. It’s not material, it can’t be owned. Not by Tracy, who desperately tries to capture her first night with Brooke in a short story, and not even by Brooke, who quickly learns her confident philosophy can clash quite hardly with reality.

Like many other entries in Baumbach’s world, this is a movie about appearances. About who we are, who we want to be, and how we set out to achieve our goals. Exactly what the movie has to say about the subject through its meta-filmic foray into the scrutiny that comes with depictions of women by women in the media is something I will have to discover in further viewings of the movie, but just like Brooke, who is selling so many things, so is Mistress America -in its swift 84 minutes- offering more to chew on than almost any movie that’s come out this year. And having said that, I can’t believe I’ve gone this long into the review without mentioning how this is the most hilarious movie of the year.

The middle section of the movie, in particular, is the funniest thing Baumbach and Gerwig have ever created. Set in a mansion in Greenwhich, Connecticut, Mistress America‘s second act turns into a revolving door farce that can easily stand up to the work of screwball comedy masters like Howard Hawks and Preston Sturgess. It’s a bizarre turn of events in a movie that seemed to be very much grounded in reality up to that point, and if it weren’t for the writing, and the pace, and the cleverness, and the performances, maybe it wouldn’t work. But the truth is so many things go so well that it cannot be a coincidence. This is an impeccably crafted sequence.

This second act detour is delightful, and it’s also a sign of the experimentation that seems to be the recurrent element in this third leg of Baumbach’s career. Earlier this year, While We’re Young saw the director quite successfully explore with meta-commentary and more outwardly comedic elements. On that front, Mistress America blows While We’re Young out of the water. It is as honest and insightful as it is hilarious. It’s simply one of the best movies of the year. I cannot wait to see it again… and again… and again…

Grade: 10 out of 10

1995 Project: Dead Man Walking, Goldeneye, La Haine, The American President, Pocahontas, Devil in a Blue Dress

Pocahontas15

Just two weeks before the 1995 Project comes to an end, which means just two weeks for me to catch up with as many ’95 movies as I can before September rolls around and I move on to another year in my quest to define what is the best movie of my lifetime. Anyway, here’s a round-up of what I saw last week.

Dead Man Walking (directed by Tim Robbins)
No one can call Robbins a subtle man, from his acting to his politics, he has always been as blunt as one can be. The weakest parts of Dead Man Walking are those when Robbins is clearly trying to make a point about the death penalty and his stern righteous self bluntly imposes itself on the filmmaking. The best, are when he is doing a movie about people connecting to each other. Sean Penn might be trying a little too hard, but boy does he sell the emotions, while Susan Sarandon is simply magnificent. This is a tremendous acting duet, deserving of all the awards and attention it got when the movie came out. And there is lots of little pieces of human interaction outside the two leads, too. Robbins is great with actors, he shows us beautiful details of human behavior that we don’t always see in cinema. On that front Dead Man Walking is great. As a whole, it is merely good.

GoldenEye (directed by Martin Campbell)
For the most part I love spy movies. I am, however, allergic to James Bond. Ironic, considering he is the quintessential movie spy, but I am just not interested in his movies. I haven’t seen many, but I’ve seen the ones people tend to cite as the best: Goldfinger, Casino Royale, Skyfalland now GoldenEye. This one was particularly underwhelming. The plot is silly, but not silly enough to go into pure camp, and outside from the opening scene, the action is quite underwhelming. There was also the uncanny feeling that, despite being the movie that re-introduced Bond to the mid-nineties in a big way, the movie looks ver much like a product of the previous decade. The framing, editing, and especially the score all seem dated in an unexpected way.

La Haine (directed by Mathieu Kassovitz)
It very much feels like the French answer to Do the Right Thingdealing with youth culture, institutionalized racism, and class conflicts. It also blends in large chunks of comedy into its daily life story until it becomes a tragedy. This was one of Kassovitz’s first features, and one can feel the excitement of young filmmaking, as well as the presence of film-school flourishes and aesthetics. It is very much a nineties movie that looks “cool” in a nineties kind of way. The main acting trio, however, is aces, and the cinematography and staging creates some memorable and striking images. If there is anything that hinders the movie, is the fact that coming when it did and the way it did, it feels like another entry in an established movement, and not like the cold splash start of a revolution.

The American President (directed by Rob Reiner)
Directed by romantic comedy connoisseur Reiner, but perhaps more importantly, written by political enthusiast and television auteur Aaron Sorkin. On this front, The American President feels very much like an embryonic test-run for The West WingNot only because of Martin Sheen’s presence, but there are many in-jokes and political issues that Sorking would deal with (more in depth) in the series. Despite the show being Sorkin’s zenith as far as political writing is concerned, this is a solid movie with a really good cast (Michael J. Fox and Anna Deavere Smith are particularly fun in supporting roles).

The movie’s biggest weakness comes somewhat retroactively. It is hard, after the disaster that was The Newsroom, not to notice Sorkin’s most annoying and frustrating tendencies when revisiting his previous work. In this case, it’s his more sexist tendencies. The male lead, being the President, stand in an overwhelmingly powerful position when compared to the female lead, and because Sorkin has deep respect for the office of the President, he creates almost an ideal leader in the Michael Douglas character, burdening Annette Bening with all of the personality quirks of the typical romantic comedy. It’s got the problems you’d expect from a Sorkin script while remaining a pretty solid rom-com.

Pocahontas (directed by Mike Gabriel, Eric Goldberg)
I wasn’t planning on re-watching Pocahontas for this project since I watched it twice very recently. Once for the “Disney Canon Project“, and another for an episode of “Hit Me With Your Best Shot“, but I caught it on ABC Family the other night so I figured what the hell. My thoughts on the movie remain the same. It is a pretty ok movie, with some assets (the sidekicks, the visuals) and some flaws (the villain, the romance) that deserves a better reputation that it has, except for the fact that its an incredibly problematic movie in terms of historical context and re-appropriation of history. The story of Pocahontas was probably one of the worst stories Disney could have chosen to adapt into a family musical… Still, if nothing else, this is, for my money, the most visually striking movie Disney Animation has ever produced.

Devil in a Blue Dress (directed by Carl Franklin)
This is a solid detective noir that becomes interesting due to the fact that its protagonist is an African American P.I. by the name of Easy Rawlins (Denzel Washington). The racial angle factors into the movie, and it brings some interesting shades to a story of deceit and corruption, but the movie’s plot remains a basic hard-boiled mystery. Not a bad one, but not an exceptional either. The most interesting part is Denzel’s performance, as he balances the fact that he is Denzel Washington, one of the most assured and coolest actors that ever lived, with the fact that his character faces the considerable limitations of being black in 1940s America. His balancing of Easy’s different faces and attitudes is remarkable.

The movie didn’t make much money when it came out, but it did get good reviews and amassed some awards buzz for Don Cheadle’s supporting performance as Easy’s violent friend Mouse. Buzz that I must admit I do not understand. Not because Cheadle is bad in the part, but because there is very little to Mouse as a character. People talk about him a lot, then he shows up, does a couple things, and leaves soon after. It seemed he was there to serve the plot and Easy’s character than he was an actual interesting character.

We Never Go Out of Style: A Review of Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’

D3S_1223.DNG

The thick air of August is announcing the end of the summer, as will the slowing number of blockbusters that will make their way to our local theaters. Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., based on a television series remembered strictly by people over the age of fifty, sounds like the kind of uncertain hit that could benefit from removing itself from the peak of the summer movie season. It’s hard to figure out why exactly Warner Bros. thinks an overly stylish spy movie set in the sixties and based on forgotten material could be a big hit. Then again, Warner Bros. has historically been the most adventurous of the major Hollywood studios, and deserves a “thank you” for bringing us movies as distinctive as Mad Max: Fury Road and Where the Wild Things Areand now The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

But before we get wrapped up in praise (which the movie deserves), one must point out thatThe Man from U.N.C.L.E. suffers from considerable limitations that were not present (at least not to the same extent) in the movies I mentioned above. The biggest of these limitations is the disposable nature of its plot, and the weak characterization of its main players. The movie’s main focus is the unlikely team-up of debonaire American agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and practically super-human Soviet spy Ilya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer), who must work with Gaby Teller (Alicia Vikander), the daughter of a German scientist who might be involved in a plot to build and sell illegal nuclear weapons.

It’s typical spy fare done in an honestly unremarkable way. One would have to be joking to suggest the plot is anything more than an excuse for Ritchie to indulge in some of the most lush and stylish images of the year. This is, at its core, a movie about three incredibly handsome people wearing gorgeous sixties fashion and parading all around the most beautiful Italian landscapes. And I have nothing against such a movie, especially when the main trio is played by an endlessly charismatic trio of actors: Hammer is having fun despite being stuck with a bad Russian accent and Vikander is one of the most talented (and beautiful) young actresses working today, but the stand-out of the movie is Cavill, who goes all-in with the suave womanizing nature of his character and breaks my heart by letting me know what he could’ve done with a less dour version of Superman.

It only makes sense that the movie is set in the sixties, because the insanely charismatic work of the main triumvirate -which is only helped by Elizabeth Debicki’s villainous turn as an Italian socialite and business woman- brings us back to an older time when movies were built around the magnetic personality of its stars. But stylish performances are only the beginning of Ritchie’s aesthetic interests which culminate in the movie looking like the most beautiful fashion commercial you have ever seen, paired up with the breakneck pacing, crazy camera angles, and jumpy chronology that tend to accompany the director’s work.

For all of his flair, Ritchie has never been a great action director, and the action sequences in Man from U.N.C.L.E. are no exception. Only in this case, Ritchie seems to have recognized his limitations. There are surprisingly little action sequences in the movie, which consistently opts for the less action-packed narrative option. This is emblematic of one of the movie’s best moments, when an aquatic action sequence is only glimpsed through a character that is sitting down removed from the action. And whenever we do get a more straight-forward action sequence, Ritchie is more focused in stylistic touches such as zooms and cross-cutting, which would be poisonous if it weren’t for Daniel Pemberton’s supreme score, which does wonders to unify the sequences.

“Style over substance” seems to be quite literally Ritchie’s conceit for this movie, and that’s not a bad thing. For all of its narrative shortcomings, the movie is full of interesting bits and clever visuals. For example, Ritchie does a pretty good use of using the background of a scene as a visual punchline in two of the movie’s best moments. The movie’s script might be too weak, and Ritchie’s vision too unfocused, but this is still bold direction, and makes for something much more interesting that we usually get from our blockbusters. If you like pretty people, pretty places, pretty clothes, and lots of style, you will probably like this movie too.

Grade: 7 out of 10

Short Review: Marielle Heller’s ‘The Diary of a Teenage Girl’

diary of a teenage girl

Despite the rather dull title, Marielle Heller’s debut feature is quite a bold movie. Based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, The Diary of a Teenage Girl tells the story of Minnie (Bel Powley), who is coming of age in the haze of mid-seventies San Francisco, and whose inner life is thrown upside down after she loses her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend (Alexander Skarsgard). A girl’s sexual awakening is always a tricky subject to talk about -taking into account the prudish nature of contemporary society- and it only gets trickier when said girl’s sexual awakening comes at the hands of a 35 year-old man.

Thankfully, Heller is up to the task. There are certain limitations to the movie, chief among them the fact that despite individual idiosyncrasies and details within the narrative, one goes into the movie knowing exactly what kind of character arc to expect. That being said, it quickly becomes apparent that knowing these experiences are going to make Minnie grow as a person is like knowing James Bond is going to win at the end. It’s a familiar story with relatively few surprises, but told with beautiful precision and care.

The most common praise thrown at the movie is the fact that it manages to explore its protagonist’s sexuality without exploiting her. Initially, I thought this would be the least we could expect from a movie of this kind. Thinking back to past movies on the subject made me realize how much of an anomaly this kind of treatment is. Think, for example, of Blue is the Warmest Color, and how for all its strengths, the movie couldn’t work past the director’s objectification of its lead character’s sexuality. I had no such concerns with this movie. Yes, there is lots of scenes in which Minnie is either naked of having sex, but they always seem honest about her experience.

This is because the movie is strictly presented from Minnie’s perspective. The “diary” of the title is quite literal, as Minnie records her thoughts in cassette tapes throughout the movie. The first-person perspective is the movie’s biggest asset, and the strongest aspect of Heller’s screenplay. This is the rare movie that not only manages to use narration in an interesting way that complements the narrative, but is actually better for it. Minnie’s commentaries are often hilarious, and always informative about the most detailed aspects of what her mind and body are going through. More often than not, her narration change our perceptions of the scenes she’s commenting on.

It could be easy to judge a teenage character such as fifteen year-old Minnie. Most of us have gone through our adolescent years and can easily recognize whenever she is doing something dumb. The movie, however, shows absolutely no contempt or judgment. Heller’s focused screenplay, and her delicate touch for directing make this a sincere (and successful) attempt to present these events through the lens of Minnie’s mind. Honesty is a rare and honorable quality in a movie, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl has honesty to spare.

Grade: 8 out of 10