Don't be thrown by the fetching title of the new film, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl." It revolves around the subject of statutory rape, but it does so with such skill, intelligence and humor that it embraces its audience, unapologetically.
In 1976 San Francisco, 15-year-old bell-bottomed, big-eyed Minnie (Bel Powley) is happily reflecting upon just having lost her virginity. It doesn't seem at all bothersome that it was readily handed over to her mom's slacker boyfriend, Monroe. Upon returning home, she records the event onto her cassette diary. It's a dangerous move for personal posterity, but hey, she's a teenager.
Through Minnie's voiceovers and animated sequences, we glean what led up to the now blossoming affair with Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard). Mom (Kristen Wiig) is an avid, boozy stoner, thus intuitiveness is not her forte. When she does sense that something is awry, Monroe easily puts it to rest. As Minnie navigates adolescence and a newfound love of sex, her evolution becomes hers alone, with no regrets.
Writer-director Marielle Heller has adapted Phoebe Gloeckner's semi-autobiographic novel into a film that could have easily been salacious, but isn't. Mind you, there are graphic images and unsettling activity abound in this film but, surprisingly, they're not off-putting. She manages to create a balance between sexual taboo and sexual awakening via characters who have no desire in taking advantage of one another.
That cast of characters is an impeccable group of actors who give phenomenal performances. Skarsgard never comes off creepy or manipulative. His Monroe truly loves Minnie and he manages to make us believe that. Wiig is simply fantastic as a mother who outwardly seems aloof but harbors unexpected emotions. But it's Bel Powley who owns this provocative film. Her portrayal of an insecure, plain Jane teen, desperately longing for love, is so mind-blowing it begs an Oscar.
"The Diary of a Teenage Girl" asks that we put our moral compasses aside, without pleading. Some of the material presented in the film is not suitable for teen viewing without parental approval. But there's a soulfulness in this movie that cannot be dismissed, and it's worthy of a watch.