Sundance Review: 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl' starring Bel Powley and Kristen Wiig

The indie scene is chock full of films about female sexual awakening, and most attempt to tell the  same edgy story. Few pull it off; either they're too soft or exploit the subject in ways that can be considered ugly. Marielle Heller's assertive directorial debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl does what many other films attempt which is push the limits in exploring the unchecked sexual desires of one atypical girl in 1976 San Francisco.

Anchored by a raw, untamed central performance by British actress Bel Powley, the film grabs your attention right away as 15-year-old Minnie reveals she just had sex for the first time. Against the backdrop of the west coast hippie and feminist movement there's an endearing spirit of rebellion against societal norms, and Minnie is swept up in it. But for all her hope that she's made the transition into womanhood, she's still very much an immature child. Blabbing into her tape recorder she reveals that her lover was Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the boyfriend to her mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), an alcoholic with trouble holding on to men. That Charlotte perceives her daughter as a rival isn't lost on Minnie, but it actually drives her to pursue the relationship further. She begins to revel in the danger of it, but also the feeling of being sexually attractive to men because she always perceived herself as ugly and fat.

The road Minnie travels is a familiar one of sexual experimentation bordering on nymphomania. There's of course sex with Monroe, but also sex with strangers, group sex, and a disturbing bout with prostitution that nearly crosses the line into bad taste. Hellner's unflinching portrayal of it is refreshing but Minnie's story is also consistently predictable. Based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner, Hellner attempts to weave in brief, American Splendor-esque animated sequences that are beautiful but seem divorced from the narrative. While the case isn't completely made that all of Minnie's questionable behavior will build her into a confident woman, it does celebrate that she'll always be true to herself without the need for male validation. At a time when Hollywood is often and rightly criticized for its negative portrayals of women,  The Diary of a Teenage Girl sends a valuable message about the value of self-worth.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5