Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) lives in a San Francisco moving on from the free love hippie era to punk rock in 1976. Her single, hard partying mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) has a loose parenting style and a good looking boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård, "The East"). He's Minnie's choice for losing her virginity as she relays her hopes, fears and exploits onto tape cassettes which become "The Diary of a Teenage Girl."
With a Bettie Page haircut, feathery brows and lashes, the clear-eyed 22 year-old English actress Bel Powley has made herself the gold standard for female coming of age expression. Her unconventional looks encase a distinctive sexuality and Powley knows how to project it without apparent knowledge of its power. Equal parts sophisticated and childish, adventurous and fearful, Powley is astonishingly good as the anchor of writer/director Marielle Heller's uncompromising adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner's novel.
Like many a teenaged girl, Minnie harbors strong romantic illusions mixed with raging hormones. After nibbling on Monroe's fingers in a bar, he tells her she's given him a hard-on. She tells him in no uncertain terms she'd like him to use it. They agree to meet the next day. Monroe is surprised to learn that Minnie is a virgin. The thirty-five year-old also appears to be smitten. Things get a bit awkward between the two when Charlotte is around. Minnie responds by flaunting the hickey she's gotten from classmate Ricky Wasserman (Austin Lyon, "Pitch Perfect 2").
Minnie may be wrapped up in the female gaze (she and best friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters) lick the crotch of the Iggy Pop poster on her wall), but she's also a burgeoning feminist, writing to cartoonist Aline Kominsky (voice of Susannah Schulman) for advice (Heller uses Minnie and Aline's artwork, animated as heart doodles floating from a tub or Aline herself, walking alongside Minnie on a San Francisco street).
The miracle of Heller's film is that despite a couple of other ill-advised sexual adventures on Minnie's part and her repeated assignations with Monroe, she's never judged and he never comes across as a pervert (Skarsgård's sensitive performance colors him more passively misguided). Even Minnie's mom with her cocaine driven housekeeping and late night parties seems more a reflection of the times (production design is terrific, an unexaggerated 70's flashback) than a particularly bad parent. Charlotte is a bit of an egotist (she's admired by all), but she also encourages Minnie to advertise her allure a bit more, a generational difference that dates mom (as does her acceptance of a hefty Christmas check from her ex and the 'solution' she comes up with when she finally learns the truth about Monroe). Minnie's a lot more independent, and, given the film's ending, maybe more mature, even if she still giggles like a schoolgirl. Younger sister Gretel (Abby Wait) is a studious, nerdy looking type, in the naive ugly duckling forerunner stage we presume Minnie recently emerged from.
With "The Diary of a Teenage Girl," Marielle Heller's made a classic her first time up at bat.
Robin gives "The Diary of a Teenage Girl" a B+.
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