INDIE FLICKS: MYSTERIES OF LIFE
Fifteen-year-old Minnie Guetze just had sex for the first time, she breathlessly tells her cassette tape recorder in the opening frames of The Diary of a Teenage Girl (R). The recipient of Minnie's virginity is her mother's thirtysomething boyfriend Monroe, which in mid-70's San Francisco during the sexual revolution isn't the same statutory rape scandal it would be today.
It is simply a rite of passage in Marielle Heller's movie adapted from Phoebe Gloeckner's graphic novel, a step toward womanhood for a girl whom viewers are eventually assured will grow up fine. Coming of age stories are common in cinema but seldom as raw and non-judgmental as Heller's approach. The film's title and core circumstance may scream exploitation, and The Diary of a Teenage Girl is, indeed, unsettling to watch at times. Such honesty is rare in movies, and can be difficult to absorb.
The key to making this tricky material work is English newcomer Bel Powley's eager, aching portrayal of Minnie. Powley is, in fact, 23 years old, making her frankness and occasional nudity less unpleasant than it might be. She captures both the awkwardness of youth in appearance, and the misplaced bravado of growing up too soon. You feel for Minnie even as you want to shake her out of her evolving promiscuity that turns off one potential, age-appropriate boyfriend and leads to more sordid encounters.
By now, the whole idea of The Diary of a Teenage Girl may seem lurid, even despicable. In fact, Heller invests her movie with a disarming sweetness in spite of the material.
Part of it is her flashes of animation — Minnie is an aspiring cartoonist — reflecting the girl's impressions of the surrounding world. Some can be credited to Alexander Skarsgard as Monroe, too blockheaded to be seriously considered a predator. Minnie's mother Charlotte (Kristen Wiig in drama mode again) is emotionally absent and as much to blame as her daughter. Even if she were an influence in Minnie's life it wouldn't be positive. B+
The Diary of a Teenage Girl opens Friday at Veterans 24 in Tampa, Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg, Woodlands Square 16 in Oldsmar and Regency 20 in Brandon.
DIGGING FOR FIRE
Opening only at Sundial 19 in St. Petersburg is Digging for Fire (R), another of director Joe Swanberg's largely improvised slivers of life, making him a leader of the often interminable mumblecore genre. This one places a couple (Jake Johnson, shown right, Rosemarie DeWitt) in a minor suburban mystery when they unearth a bone and a gun in their back yard.
The discovery is a reason for Swanberg and a starry cast to explore the human condition, likely with navel-gazing dullness. The most impressive aspect of Swanberg's work is how many terrific actors he talks into showing up for work (Sam Rockwell, Jane Adams, Orlando Bloom, Sam Elliott, Brie Larson and others in this movie alone).
Finally, there is War Room (PG), a strange title for a faith-based film, that I wish I could explain. Like many of that genre's entries, the distributor of War Room doesn't care for promoting outside of churches, and the movie therefore opens unscreened for review.
Apparently there's an unhappily married couple (Priscilla C. Shirer, T.C. Stallings) who meet Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie) with solid spiritual advice for them. "Prayer is a powerful weapon," claims the movie's tagline. So is a marketing strategy that might preach beyond the choir.
HOORAY FOR INDIAN FILMS: IIFF RETURNS
After skipping a year with logistical problems, the India International Film Festival returns to Tampa this weekend, at Centro Ybor 10 in Ybor City.
The celebration begins Friday at 6:30 p.m. with red carpet entrances, a VIP reception and dinner, followed by opening ceremonies at 8 and a screening of Shlok Sharma's provocative love triangle Haraamkhor, in which a student falls in love with her teacher (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) while a boy with a crush on her watches. Sharma will conduct at Q&A after the film. Tickets for the evening are $50, available at iifftampa.com.
The festival continues Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m., with afternoon schedules mainly occupied by short film collections. Feature film highlights include the comedy Meet the Patels (Saturday at 7:15 p.m.), the Venice fest prizewinner Court (Saturday at 7:30 p.m.) and Sunday's closing night selection Saari Raat.
Single screening tickets are $5-$10, and daily passes ($25-$40) are available.
OPENING WEDNESDAY: A WALK IN THE WOODS
Robert Redford and Nick Nolte take A Walk in the Woods (PG-13), based on Bill Bryson's midlife memoirs of hiking the Appalachian Trail with a long lost friend, with all the mishaps and life lessons that involves. Sounds very Bucket List-y but with those two legendary stars (plus Emma Thompson as Bryson's wife), A Walk in the Woods could be fun. A review will be published at tampabay.com and on Etc, Page 2B.
Sept. 4: The Transporter Refueled; Mistress America
Sept. 11: The Perfect Guy; The Visit; Sleeping with Other People; Time Out of Mind
Sept. 18: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trial; Everest; Black Mass