'The Diary Of A Teenage Girl' Director Marielle Heller Talks Being Honest About Female Sexuality

Coming-of-age movies about boys becoming men are a dime a dozen. Not to say these films can't be executed truthfully or without cinematic merit, but it's nearly impossible to find a movie about a girl navigating womanhood that isn't told from a male perspective. Until now. Marielle Heller has been working on The Diary of a Teenage Girl for eight years. From its adaptation from a graphic novel for stage, to arriving as a dramatic feature at 2015's Sundance Film Festival, this unique story is her baby, and she has an authentic reason for crafting it. "I've spent a lot of my adult years grappling with the feelings I had as a teenager," she says.

"When you're a teenager, everything feels so much more extreme. The highs feel really high, the lows feel really low, it's a very potent time of life. You feel the most alive you've ever been as a teen. When I read this book, it resonated for me in such a real way. I felt like finally, this is a story that's being reflected truthfully about this period of time."

The film, starring True Blood's Alexander Skarsgard as Monroe, Kristen Wiig as the girl's mother Charlotte, and newcomer Bel Powley as Minnie, is a story about a 15-year-old-girl discovering her sexuality in the haze of 1970s San Francisco. Her life seems normal enough, except for one unique detail: She's sleeping with her mother's boyfriend.

"The time period and the place play so specifically into the story," Heller says. "I grew up in the Bay area and it has its own culture. Having it set in this time period allows us to enter in, as an audience, with a little less judgement. It's easier to stomach, and hopefully relate to this girl. It also helps us not to judge Monroe, Charlotte, Minnie — they were all finding their humanities. The time period gives us a little buffer."

The film is unapologetically honest across the board, especially when it comes to sex. We see Minnie (Powley) engage in a variety of sexual activities with Monroe (Skarsgard) and her classmates. "The sex scenes aren't gratuitous, or shot from a masculine perspective, which is rare," Heller explains. "There's a kind of a revolutionary sex scene, where Minnie takes charge and control of her own sexual situation," she says, referencing a scene in which Minnie takes steps to ensure her own orgasm when having sex with a boy from school. "It's so wonderful. We tried to do the sex scenes from her perspective."

The Diary of a Teenage Girl premiered at Sundance Film Festival, receiving the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Excellence in Cinematography.