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Girl Picture

The history of women directing teen sex comedies is longer and more robust than one might initially think. There’s Amy Heckerling’s foundational “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” of course. But the ‘70s and ‘80s also produced more obscure works like “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” writer/director Linda Feferman’s sweet, slightly odd semi-autobiographical comedy. And in more recent years, Scandinavia has produced some gently progressive, pointedly non-judgemental films about the sex lives of adolescent girls, epitomized by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s delightfully titled “Turn Me On, Goddammit!” (2011). The new film “Girl Picture,” from Finnish director Alli Haapasalo, continues this tradition. 

But while “Girl Picture” isn’t necessarily breaking any new ground, this sensitively rendered dramedy invites viewers into the world of three young Finnish women on the cusp of adulthood with an affection and mellow sense of humor that makes it a more than agreeable cinematic companion. Although the story hits many of your typical teen-sex-comedy beats—first love, raging hormones, awkward sexual encounters at parties—don’t expect any raucous gross-out scenes in this one. Haapasalo’s approach to the material is low-key and naturalistic—which, along with the vulnerable, excellent performances, makes these girls’ stories feel very real. 

The story begins with social outcast BFFs Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) and Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), who are talking about sex at their job at a smoothie store in the mall—again, shades of “Fast Times”—when a popular guy comes up to the cash register and asks them if they’d like to come to a party. Now, viewers raised on ‘80s American teen comedies may be conditioned to expect that some sort of cruel public humiliation awaits certified losers Mimmi and Rönkkö if they’re dumb enough to show up. But it doesn’t.

Instead, introverted Mimmi goes looking for a safe place to hide while her friend puts her foot in her mouth attempting to chat up boys. She ducks into a tiled room with a small pool; there, she runs into Emma (Linnea Leino), a girl around the same age who Mimmi rudely dismissed when she came by the smoothie stand earlier in the day. The duo gets to talking, and Mimmi finds out that Emma is a driven and disciplined competitive figure skater whose life revolves around 5 a.m. practices and strict dietary regimens. Seeing an opportunity to make up for her callous behavior earlier in the day, Mimmi talks Emma into going out dancing. By the end of the night, they’re desperately in love with each other. 

Mimmi and Emma’s passionate romance, with all the sports drama and messy emotions that come with it, makes up the majority of “Girl Picture’s” running time. The rest is dedicated to a subplot where Rönkkö, who may be some flavor of asexual, throws herself into a series of casual sexual encounters in hopes that she might learn to enjoy having sex with other people. As with the party scenes, cultural (or at least cinematic) differences between America and Finland are highlighted in Rönkkö’s adventures; the film never questions whether it’s okay—not to mention safe—for her to be doing all of this, which feels very foreign (in a good way!) coming from an American point of view.

Some of the cultural nuances of “Girl Picture” don’t translate as readily: A revelation late in the film that Rönkkö’s parents have essentially stopped talking to her because they’re ashamed of her mental illness has a Scandinavian chilliness to it that may be hard for outsiders to understand. The film lets this unfold naturally, as it does with everything; the approach is far preferable to characters turning towards the camera and explaining how Finns deal with difficult family dynamics (by ignoring them, apparently), but it is puzzling in a similar way to the recent online dust-up over Swedes not offering their guests refreshments

That’s not really “Girl Picture’s” problem, however. The movie is here to help viewers get to know and love these characters, not provide a cultural lesson. This is where Haapasalo’s light touch really pays off: She centers the film’s young actors and their performances throughout the film, occasionally pausing for long, unbroken close-ups that focus on the girls’ faces as they silently ride a rollercoaster of teenage emotions. The pressure faced by young athletes like Emma is rendered especially vividly, as is the shame that leads Mimmi to sabotage every good thing that comes into her life. Rönkkö’s inner world is shallower by comparison, but she gets most of the film’s (gentle, knowing) laughs, so it comes out even in the end. 

Films like “Girl Picture” that take the inner world of adolescents seriously are still unfortunately rare. Sure, there are silly, gross, humiliating things about that time in your life where you’re technically an adult—the characters in “Girl Picture” are around 18 years old, drinking age in Finland—but you still think and act like a child. But there are subtle, sad, transcendent experiences to be had at that age as well. Its embrace of the exquisite, painful, confusing breadth of emotions that make up the human experience is what makes “Girl Picture” so worthwhile.

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Film Credits

Girl Picture movie poster

Girl Picture (2022)

Rated NR

102 minutes

Cast

Linnea Leino as Emma

Aamu Milonoff as Mimmi

Eleonoora Kauhanen as Rönkkö

Bruno Baer as Kalle

Amos Brotherus as Sipi

Oona Airola as Sanna

Sonya Lindfors as Tanja

Director

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

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