Girl Picture (2022)

‘Girl’ paints a searing portrait of teen girls in flux

By Al Alexander

There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about Alli Haapasalo’s adolescent coming-of-age dramedy, “Girl Picture,” but the honesty and frankness with which it confronts issues of sex, ambition and friendship are revolutionary. As are the three young actresses bringing the tale to life with such warmth and candor you’re often convinced what we’re witnessing is achingly real.

Evoking Amy Heckerling’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” the Helsinki-set “Girl Picture” is the epitome of a crowd-pleaser, evidenced by its capture of the Audience Award for Best Foreign Film at January’s Sundance Film Festival. Hard not to concur with the choice, given how deeply the movie draws you into the ever-evolving lives of best friends Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) and Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), as they clumsily navigate the complicated path toward sexual enlightenment.

When not serving up frothy “It Takes Two to Mango” smoothies at the mall, the two unabashedly discuss their less-than-satisfying sex lives. Of the two, Rönkkö is the most frantic, worried – after several failed attempts – that she will never experience an orgasm. No problems in that department for Mimmi, by far the more worldly of the two. What she craves is true love, the kind where you can’t think about anything but your partner. Like Rönkkö, she’s finding her desires unfulfilled, which might be why she’s prone to random acts of violence, such as whacking a classmate across the shin with a mallet during gym.

To compound her anger issues, Mimmi isn’t much into socializing, which explains why she’s so resistant to attending a party she and Rönkkö are invited to after work one Friday night. But she goes, mainly because it provides her pal a perfect opportunity to slay the Big O, which has become Rönkkö’s elusive white whale. What Mimmi doesn’t expect is to meet the love of her life in Emma (Linnea Leino), an obsessive figure skater in the throes of a slump just before the European Championships. Might Mimmi be the ticket to Emma rediscovering her lost triple Lutz? Or, is she the distraction that could permanently put Emma’s lifelong dream on ice?

With a script by Daniela Hakulinen and Ilona Ahti as her guide, Haapasalo tags along on three consecutive weekends as Mimmi and Rönkkö negotiate the many roadblocks hindering their unique pursuits. To enhance the intimacy, Haapasalo and cinematographer Jarmo Kluru opt for a 4:3 aspect ratio, directing our eyes onto the girls’ highly expressive faces, as they experience joy, disappointment and, in Rönkkö’s case, wrenching humiliation.

The focus is on passion, whether it’s generated in the bedroom or during a heated spat between Rönkkö and Mimmi in the middle of the food court. In turn, the three young actresses achieve a level of conviction that climaxes in a third act both poignant and satisfying. Fortunately so, because the payoff greatly tempers the movie’s occasional lapses, particularly in how it inhibits the electrifying romance brewing between Mimmi and Emma. Listening to the duo expound on their various fears and longings spurs a craving for more, only to be disappointed by the filmmakers cutting corners by using music and montages to communicate feelings better expressed in words.

That’s particularly egregious given the depth of the work by the three perfectly cast leads. They are the lifeblood of “Girl Picture,” delivering lived-in performances expertly depicting the hurt and confusion that are so much a part of experiencing love for the first time. There’s considerable humor, too, mostly on the part of Kauhanen, whose Rönkkö is so frank in discussing sex with her prospective lovers that she sends a flock of allegedly macho boys running in horror. Decorum is not Rönkkö’s strong suit, but her reflections on the similarities between drinking cups and sperm-collection containers seems so completely natural and are delivered with such charm, that you’re convinced every boy rejecting her is a blind idiot.

Ultimately, the film belongs to Milonoff. Her Mimmi is a bit of a cliche given her amalgamation of woes, be they monetary, familial, or romantic. But Milonoff sells it so convincingly, that you almost forget how often you’ve seen this character. And her chemistry with the tall and willowy Leino is off the charts. The pair know how to steam up a screen. But even more significant, they know how to tug at your heart, often in unexpected ways. Therein lies the secret to loving “Girl Picture.” It may seem a mere snapshot of Finnish teenage life, but what it captures is a seminal moment in the maturing of three young women that will last them a lifetime.

Movie review

Girl Picture

Rating: Not rated

Cast: Aamu Milonoff, Eleonoora Kauhanen and Linnea Leino

Director: Alli Haapasalo

Writers: Hakulinen and Ilona Ahti

Runtime: 100 minutes

Language: Finnish with English subtitles

Grade: A-

Leave a Reply