It’s 1976 in San Francisco, and 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) hasn’t so much lost her virginity as sent it up like a rocket flare. “I had sex today!” she confesses breathlessly into a borrowed tape recorder. “This makes me officially an adult.” It doesn’t, of course, but the guy she’s just done it with most definitely qualifies: a mustachioed dreamboat named Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), who is nearly two decades older—and also happens to be dating her mother (Kristen Wiig).
Though it was widely celebrated at Sundance this year, Diary has had less luck with censors; England’s ratings board recently slapped it with the equivalent of an NC-17, effectively shutting out a good portion of the movie’s target audience. That’s too bad, because as unsettling as Marielle Heller’s feature-film debut can be—there are moments you’ll ache for Minnie and other ones where you’ll want to lock her away—it rings much truer than most coming-of-age stories. A lot of that is due to British actress Powley, who brilliantly captures the raw vulnerability and reckless bravado of adolescence (though in real life she’s 23). Skarsgård threads the needle in a tricky role, and Wiig is excellent as a boozy bohemian who sincerely believes in her liberated brand of parenting; if Minnie feels like a grown-up, it’s probably because she’s often the most responsible one in the room.
Working from Phoebe Gloeckner’s 2002 graphic novel/memoir, Heller gets the shabby glamour and bleached sunshine of ’70s San Francisco just right, coloring several scenes with vivid blooms of animation. It’s more than decoration; art is crucial for aspiring cartoonist Minnie—a lifeline from the girl she still is to the woman she wants to be. A-