“I just had sex!” proclaims precocious 15 year-old Minnie Goetz into her cassette-tape audio diary, as she strides through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park in her high-waisted bell-bottoms and platform shoes. Set in 1976, as Patty Hearst’s kidnapping/bank robbery dominates TV-viewing, the story revolves around Minnie (Bel Powley), her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), and Charlotte’s boy-friend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard).
A flashback reveals how Minnie lost her virginity. Since her mother’s divorce, Minnie and her younger sister Gretel (Abigail Wait), have had little parental supervision. Charlotte’s a bohemian, hosting cocaine-fueled parties and urging Minnie to wear make-up and sexy clothes, saying, “You’ve got a kind of power. You don’t know it, but you do.”
So confused Minnie impulsively makes the first move on 35 year-old Monroe, sucking on his finger. When he pulls away, she insists on fondling his genitals. While she subsequently romanticizes their relationship, it’s a secret that cannot stay hidden.
Inspired by the controversial work of underground cartoonist Aline Kominsky (R. Crumb’s future wife), Minnie records her thoughts, dreams and desires, augmented by vividly animated drawings.
“I want a body pressed up next to me, just to know that I’m really here,” Minnie confesses.
Covering much the same territory explored in “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” “An Education,” “Little Darlings,” “Foxes,” and “The To Do List,” it’s a female-focused coming-of-age story. Think of Minnie as a feminine Holden Caulfield from J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.”
First-time film-maker Marianne Heller’s adaptation of Phoebe Gloeckner’s autobiographical teenage journal, published in 2002, is far brighter in tone than its source material, diluting its exploitive, psycho-social context. While the graphic book stresses Monroe’s coercion and molestation of Minnie, the movie depicts Minnie’s seduction of Monroe.
Although Powley was 21 at the time of filming, she’s convincing as the emotionally vulnerable teen, learning that love and sex are not the same thing and that having self-respect is better than a boyfriend.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Diary of a Teenage Girl” is a sensitive 7, an emotionally candid sexual awakening.