Marielle Heller is one of the most exciting filmmakers working in the industry. Although she is not a household name in the mainstream yet, she has proven her talent and range in the three feature films she has directed so far. All three are adaptations of different mediums which also shows Heller’s skill as a writer. Starting with The Diary of a Teenage Girl in 2015 thrust Heller as an emerging writer/director thanks to its controversial and unflinching portrayal of its subject matter of underage sex. Following this, Heller made a dramatic star out of comedienne Melissa McCarthy in biopic Can You Ever Forgive Me? in 2018 followed by 2019’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood which follows a journalist writing a piece on American icon, Mister Rogers. Her absence from major award nominations has been subject to controversy with stars such as fellow director Greta Gerwig and Natalie Portman using their platform to promote her work.
Here are my mini reviews and rankings for the films by Marielle Heller:
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)
Heller’s debut is the perfect scene stealer opening up with 15 year old Minnie (Bel Powley) walking in the park with her confident voice over stating “I had sex today. Holy shit!” Heller’s script and direction follows Minnie from a distance allowing her life to play out with the complicated relationships she has with her mum, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) and Charlotte’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Powley’s breakout performance is nothing short of perfection. She comes across as confident and all-knowing, even recording audio diaries. Based on a hybrid novel combining novel and graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. Minnie winds up in a sexual relationship with Monroe and believes she is in love blind to the realities of the situation. As the affair goes on, Monroe is dismissive of Minnie’s satisfaction and is aware what he is doing is wrong. The film is a unique look into the sexual mistreatment of women and girls and how society expects them to act in order to satisfy the patriarchy. It is a film about personal and emotional growth with Minnie eventually learning to become independent and satisfied in herself and her talents as an artist. Despite her flaws and mistakes, she thrives above what society thinks of her and does what makes her happy.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Heller’s follow-up Can You Ever Forgive Me? is based on the 2008 memoir of the same name by writer Lee Israel. Following Israel (Melissa McCarthy) as she forges letters written by famous writers and sells them off to earn extra money, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a film about the writer and artist desperation. At the beginning of the film, Israel is experiencing a career slump, unable to secure an advance for her book and is forced to sell her possessions to pay her bills. What starts from selling a personal letter from Katharine Hepburn spirals into forging letters from celebrities with scandalous details. Enlisting the help of her friend, Jack (Richard E. Grant), the two begin stealing letters from libraries and archives as well as forging other letters. McCarthy and Grant bring career best performances and earned them Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Grant’s first and, to date, only Oscar nomination!).
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019)
One of my favourite films from last year, this underrated gem stars Tom Hanks as American treasure, Mister Rogers and features Matthew Rhys as a skeptical reporter who is asigned to write on Rogers. I have written a longer review for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood here which you can read. Bringing Tom Hanks his first Oscar nomination in years, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood utilises wonderful puppetry in a film that is heartwarming with a deep message. Among a film landscape that is full of fear and dread, it’s nice to see a film about kindness and love being made.
Each film has its strengths and they are all so different which makes it difficult to rank them even though there are only three. Here is my ranking for Heller’s films:
1) The Diary of a Teenage Girl
2) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
3) Can You Ever Forgive Me?
I really recommend giving each of these films a viewing at least once. Heller has a knack for drawing out brilliant and unexpected performances in films thay serve as flawless examinations of its characters.
Have you seen any Marielle Heller films? Which ones are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below!