(director/writer: Marielle Heller; screenwriters: Phoebe Gloeckner/novel by Phoebe Gloeckner; cinematographer: Brandon Trost; editors: Marie-Hélène Dozo /Koen Timmerman; music: Nate Heller; cast: Bel Powley (Minnie Goetze), Alexander Skarsgard (Monroe), Christopher Meloni (Pascal), Kristen Wiig (Charlotte Goetze), Abigail Wait (Gretel), Madeleine Waters (Kimmie), Austin Lyon (Ricky), Quinn Nagle (Chuck), Margarita Levieva (Tabatha); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anne Carey/Bert Hamelinck/ Madeline Samit/Miranda Bailey; Sony Classics; 2015)

The first feature from Marielle Heller hits all the right chords as a mature sexual coming-of-age film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The first feature from Marielle Heller hits all the right chords as a mature sexual coming-of-age film. Heller co-writes it with Phoebe Gloeckner, the author whose autobiography the story is based on.

It’s 1976 in hip San Francisco. The 15-year-old Minnie Goetz (Brit actress Bel Powley, 23) gushes to herself while walking through the park that she just had sex for the first time and when home begins a diary that’s recorded on a cassette tape-recorder. The film, as the book, combines comic drawings and words. On film, Sara Gunnarsdottir puts to animation the cartoon drawings that get into the heroine’s head.

The film centers around the slightly overweight insecure Minnie, who feels neglected and unloved and unsure if she’s attractive. When she attracts the attention of Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), the small-time hustler boyfriend of her divorced free-spirited inattentive mom, Charlotte (Kristen Wiig), she manipulates him to have sex with her. The pic makes no excuses for the affair, even if not acceptable to society, and even celebrates it as helping Minnie grow as a person and that the experience enriches her as an aspiring cartoonist.

The mom-daughter relationship is skillfully handled in a nuanced way, offering no judgments. The real father to the girls, Minnie and her younger sister Gretel (Abigail Wait), is out of the picture. Any standard parenting to the girls comes via phone from their previous step-dad, Pascal (Christopher Meloni), an uptight but well-meaning intellectual scientist now living in NYC. The step-dad pays Minnie’s tuition at an upscale private school.

Confusion grows for Minnie when she can’t comprehend what’s happening to her and receives mixed messages at home from her bohemian party-animal mom. It results in the unsupervised Minnie taking a walk on the wild side while teaming up with her sex-crazed slutty friend Kimmie (Madeleine Waters), having a lesbian relationship with the streetwise Tabatha (Margarita Levieva), an awkward affair with her rich high school classmate Ricky (Austin Lyon) and getting somewhat into the counter-culture club-hopping drug scene.

It doesn’t flinch taking on risky subjects and frankly offering upsetting answers. That honesty makes it more interesting than many such movies about teenage female’s growing pains. It tells us with some trepidation that considering how loosely Minnie was raised it is not surprising that she got into an ill-advised relationship, but feels good that despite being down she picked herself up and made something of herself by her hard earned wisdom. On the down side of the film, Minnie’s conflicts are of the low-level type and seem to be for the most part self-inflicted.Marielle Heller

REVIEWED ON 8/30/2015 GRADE: B  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/