Marielle Heller's coming-of-age tale might have been a bit too authentic for the stodgy Academy

By Nicole Sperling
Updated February 10, 2016 at 01:46 PM EST
Credit: Sam Emerson

Which movie was better: Mean Streets or The Sting? There’s no wrong answer, but here’s something that’s criminal. The Sting, George Roy Hill’s crowd-pleasing reunion with Paul Newman and Robert Redford, won seven Academy Awards, including the Oscar for Best Picture. (That’s not the criminal part…) Mean Streets, Martin Scorsese’s gritty crime pic with Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, on the other hand, won zero Oscars. It didn’t win any Oscars because it wasn’t even nominated for a single award. Not one.

So you can debate whether The Sting was the best movie of 1973. But you can’t excuse the Academy for completely ignoring Mean Streets. Sadly, Oscar has a long history of overlooking masterful comedies, action movies, horror flicks, hard-boiled genre pics, and artsy foreign films — classics like The Searchers, Groundhog Day, Touch of Evil, and The Big Lebowski.

History, fortunately, is the ultimate arbiter of greatness. Before this year’s ceremony, we’re taking a closer look at 2015 films that were too small, too weird, or perhaps simply too awesome for the Academy Awards. These are the Non-Nominees.

The Film: Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel of the same name, The Diary of a Teenage Girl takes place in1976 San Francisco, where 15-year old aspiring cartoonist Minnie is coming of age in a free-loving, drug-flowing culture where the rules are nebulous and the boundaries non-existent. Which is why it’s very confusing when Minnie loses her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend, Monroe, played with tightrope precision by Alexander Skarsgard. Told through the lens of Minnie, played by newcomer British actress Bel Powley, the film burrows inside her brain for all her wacky, confused, and honest musings on this time in her life when she’s toggling between childhood and adulthood while her mostly absent mother, played by Kristen Wiig, is experiencing her own metamorphosis. And much of her evolution is told through Robert Crumb-esque cartoonings, which gives the film its extra helping of whimsy.

Crafted meticulously by writer/director Marielle Heller, who first played Minnie in the Off Broadway version of it before adapting it for the big screen, the film never feels prurient or judgmental. Her female gaze on this subject — which is relevant to at least half of the population — gives the film its revolutionary quality, which despite the subject matter, never feels sordid.

Why it wasn’t nominated: Could there be a more uncomfortable subject to a slew of 60+ older men than that of a sexually-curious 15-year old girl? Add in the off-limits relationship she has with her mother’s 30-year old boyfriend and it’s easy to see why, despite phenomenal reviews, Diary only generated $1.4 million and never played in more than 795 theaters. If the public isn’t going to the theater, then it’s safe to assume few Academy members did too. Sony Pictures Classics released the film as Sony Pictures Classics often does: quietly. Screeners were sent out to all Academy members, but this off-beat selection never garnered the drum beat required to get it an Academy-viewing audience.

The movie did collect its share of awards, including a Best Actress win for Powley at the Gotham Awards; a First-Time Director nomination from the Director’s Guild and a Best First Feature nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. The movie was a huge hit at Sundance, but that is never a guarantee it will cross over to the broader culture.

Why history will remember it better than the Academy did: The Diary of a Teenage Girl should be seen as Exhibit A for why we need more stories told by women for women. The mere fact that the only time you see Minnie naked is when she is checking herself out alone in the mirror is reflective that women were in charge here.

What Diary has done is given us a brand new voice, for Marielle Heller’s name, if all goes as it should in the world, will be one we hear a lot about in the years to come. Same goes for Bel Powley, who was able to channel that very unique age of 15 with an exuberance and honesty that is singular. Diary may not be for everybody — and, for the record, it should be noted that it in no way glorifies pedophilia — but in many ways it was everybody at some point, at least from an emotional standpoint. And it should be viewed by greater numbers just for the discussion it will prompt, and a reminder to all what it feels like to be that age.

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

2015 movie
  • Movie
  • R
  • 102 minutes
  • Marielle Heller