The Diary of a Teenage Girl’ is a funny, sad, triumphant coming-of-age story

Powley and Wiig in The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Four stars

The Diary of a Teenage Girl Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig. Directed by Marielle Heller. Rated R. Opens Friday.

“I had sex today!” exclaims 15-year-old Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley) in voiceover at the beginning of The Diary of a Teenage Girl, and her enthusiasm for sexual activity remains at that gleeful level throughout the movie, even if her choices in partners may be questionable. Minnie’s sexual awakening comes courtesy of her mother’s boyfriend Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård), who’s 20 years older than Minnie and, at best, irresponsible when he succumbs to temptation and takes her to bed. But the movie isn’t about a young woman falling prey to a sexual predator—while Monroe’s actions are sleazy and illegal, that doesn’t mean Minnie is a hapless victim.

Based on Phoebe Gloeckner’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel and set in San Francisco in 1976, Diary is a funny, sad and ultimately triumphant coming-of-age story, never apologizing for or downplaying its main character’s sexual desire. Powley gives a star-making performance as the alternately brash and insecure Minnie, and first-time writer-director Marielle Heller tells Minnie’s story with style and wit, using animated interludes to illustrate Minnie’s inner thoughts and burgeoning creative impulses. Minnie makes mistakes and is often mistreated by those around her (including her boozy mother, played by Kristen Wiig), but she emerges strong and powerful, fully in control of her own identity and the choices she makes.

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