Directed by Alli Haapasalo and written by Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen, Girl Picture stars Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen, and Linnea Leino. It’s part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Coming-of-age films are hardly scarce for the picking these days, but Girl Picture taps into something a bit more tender and complicated about the teenage years. Best friends Mimmi (Milonoff) and Rönkkö (Kauhanen) spend their work hours at a mall smoothie shop discussing their sex and love lives. As Mimmi falls in love with Emma (Leino), Rönkkö explores the concept of pleasure and wonders why it’s so difficult for her to find.
What Girl Picture does best is make its characters feel true-to-life and sacred. Their various conversations around these “taboo” topics are filled with the brusqueness of the sexually fluid and the awkwardness of the inexperienced. It’s a film the next generation can grapple with on their own terms, not merely be gawked out for their questions about identity in the ever-changing culture they’ve inherited.
Writers Ahti and Hakulinen let their three female characters control the narrative, allowing them space to fully express their emotions, confusion, anger, and joy, without any sense of cynicism whatsoever. How they feel is how they feel, and no one is punished for that. This tender-hearted approach to these characters shouldn’t feel revolutionary, but it does anyway, especially with Rönkkö.
Surrounded by the sex-obsessed atmosphere of high school parties, Rönkkö is desperate to understand why she feels no attraction to the boys she’s interested in. Asexuality is underrepresented in these kinds of stories, and though it’s never named in Girl Picture—actually, labels are pretty non-existent here—it’s also not merely shrugged off.
Despite Mimmi’s insistence that Rönkkö just needs to keep trying—which she does—Rönkkö is granted the gift of figuring out how to express what she wants herself. While it would have been nice to see more of her experiences with other partners as someone on the asexuality spectrum, it’s a nice story we haven’t seen much in contemporary cinema.
For Emma, figure skating rules her life, so when she meets Mimmi, newfound freedom presents itself in the carefree life of falling in love. Mimmi and Emma’s love is a simple one and unfolds rather quickly over three weeks, yet the chemistry between Milonoff and Leino makes the characters come alive.
Emma’s mental block in her skating is a thread that doesn’t quite catch on enough, though her interactions with her parents and her coach are filled with understanding and encouragement. This set up usually involves more outright villainy from the adults, but Emma’s desire for an invigorating social life is never discouraged—a wonderfully simple scene at the skating rink shows Emma’s mom being totally accepting of Mimmi’s presence.
The film struggles most in its narrative structure. It’s told in chapters taking place over three Fridays and one Saturday, and Girl Picture misses out on needed character nuance by only focusing on single days. What happens the rest of the weeks in between the Fridays is a mystery, and whatever new drama has happened isn’t immediately apparent once we make it to the next week. Emma and Mimmi get in a fight one week, and the next, following a brief shouting match love confession, they’re back together. Emma’s struggles with her ice skating also suffer from this narrow narrative choice, and so it’s difficult to track her mental headspace in regards to her sport.
There’s a warmth throughout Girl Picture that comes through not just in the character’s interactions but also in the film’s lighting. Soft tones make the film more intimate, while the use of red lights—a typically harsh and dramatic color—turn moments of connection into something more fantastical, notably when Emma performs her skating routine in a parking lot for Mimmi.
What Girl Picture captures best is the exciting liberation that comes from finding your identity, whether you have the words for it or not. Though Emma, Mimmi, and Rönkkö experience frustrations with each other, coming back together is as simple as love itself. Girl Picture understands—and celebrates—the ability to define that love however you’d like.
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