With vibrant personality and frank attitude, “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” gives us a close, intimate look into the bumpy sexual maturation period of its adolescent heroine who becomes aware of her biological/psychological changes more than before. Like many girls around her age, she is willing to go forward for what she desires, and she thinks she knows where she is going, though that inevitably turns out to be a painfully wrong assumption to be followed by some valuable life lessons for her adulthood on the horizon.
When we meet Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) during the opening scene, this 15-year-old girl feels buoyed by the exciting sense of fulfillment. As she directly tells to us, she just has experienced her first sexual intercourse, and things certainly look different to her now as she reflects on how that memorable experience of lifetime happened to her under a circumstance which was not very inappropriate in many aspects.
As Minnie is recording her private diary tape, we come to learn a bit about her family background. Her bohemian mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig) has been enjoying her carefree lifestyle especially after her divorce with her second husband, and San Francisco during the 1970s is an ideal place for Charlotte and her equally fun-loving friends, who do not mind alcohol and drugs whenever they get any chance. It goes without saying that Charlotte is not someone who can get the Mother of the Year award, but she has managed to maintain a cozy domestic environment for herself and her two daughters, and Minnie and her little sister Gretel (Abigail Wait) have no problem with how frequently their mother enjoys herself inside and outside their home.
Charlotte is currently in the relationship with a tall, handsome guy named Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), and Minnie finds herself being infatuated with this hunky dude as her yearning to be liked and loved grows day by day. She often feels inadequate while looking at her changing body in the mirror, and we can easily guess the reason when she is with her close friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters), who looks sassier and prettier in comparison.
During one evening, Minnie and Monroe happen to go to a local bar together when Charlotte chooses to stay at home. As they talk and drink more with each other, Minnie comes to feel more attraction toward Monroe, and then she makes an active move toward Monroe, who may have some reservation but does not hide at all how his certain body part reacts to Minnie’s blatant act of flirting. While never overlooking the questionable aspects of their deviant interaction, this scene is handled with considerable emotional frankness, and it comes to us as one of the most humorous (and naughtiest) moments in the film thanks to the effortlessly balanced acting by Bel Powley and Alexander Skarsgård.
After having her first official copulation, Minnie continues her inappropriate relationship with Monroe while naturally hiding it from her mother, who sincerely encourages her to be more interested in boys while having no idea about how far her daughter has gone recently. When Minnie approaches to one of male classmates in her high school, she already has a clear idea of what she wants from the start, and she surely gets it while they have a little private time at his house.
Meanwhile, we also observe the gradual growth of her artistic sensibility blooming inside her. She becomes interested in the works of underground comics artist Aline Kominsky, and Kominsky’s bold and provocative style, which is not so far from her future husband Robert Crumb’s works, inspires Minnie a lot as she tries to find her own style. The director Marielle Heller, who adapted Phoebe Gloeckner’s graphic novel “The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures” for her movie, inserts several witty animation sequences into the movie for reflecting her heroine’s bouncing artistic imagination which knows no limit or taboo. In case of one animation sequence featuring a big giant girl, we get the humorous reflection of how Minnie virtually emasculates her latest sex partner, and you may appreciate a little naughty touch at the end of the film.
Powley, a young British actress who had just started her movie acting career around the time when she was cast for the movie, is fabulous in what will be her career breakthrough point. Minnie is not exactly a good girl to say the least, but Powley’s engaging nuanced performance lets us understand what drives her character into all those risky behaviors, and we come to worry about Minnie especially when she is later struggling with the consequences resulted from her reckless acts. While Skarsgård is also fine as a flawed man who turns out to be more unreliable and selfish than expected, Kristen Wiig, who has kept advancing into more serious territories as shown from her recent works in “The Skeleton Twins” (2014) and “The Martian” (2015), brings human details into what could be a thankless caricature role, and Christopher Meloni shows his surprising comic side as Minnie’s fastidious ex-stepfather, who instantly senses what is going on between Minnie and Monroe when he incidentally drops by his ex-wife’s house.
“The Diary of a Teenager Girl” did a thoughtful and sensitive job of handling its potentially sensational subject, and the result is a lively coming-of-age drama with recognizable adolescent behaviors we can emphasize with. Like many of us, she did make mistakes, but she did learn something as recognizing the inner changes to affect her life for a long time. Does she really know now who she is as well as what she wants? She will see, no matter what will happen in her approaching future.