Alli Haapasalo’s Girl Picture is a delightful Finnish coming-of-ager which takes teenage girls, their sexuality, and their trauma seriously.
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At the start of Girl Picture, we meet Mimmi (the excellent Aamu Milonoff) in a high school PE class hitting a classmate with a hockey stick because she’s been taunted. Immediately, we realise that Mimmi is volatile, but that’s complicated by what happens next: she offers to help the girl up (and is rejected, for obvious reasons). Mimmi is a kind soul with anger issues — and she’s at her best when she’s hanging out with her best friend, the smart and bubbly Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen). Over three successive Fridays, and one Saturday, we follow Mimmi’s and Rönkkö’s journeys through love and sexual pleasure, as well as the journey of shy competitive ice skater Emma (Linnea Leino), whom Mimmi meets and falls for.
Girl Picture stands out as a coming-of-ager that takes teenagers seriously, exploring how complicated sex and love can be for teenage girls, and how trauma can make relationships difficult. You’ll fall in love with these girls and want the best for them, even when they make huge mistakes. Mimmi’s and Emma’s romance is sweet and, at least to begin with, nurturing in many ways. In Emma, Mimmi finds someone who cares about her (Rönkkö aside) after Mimmi was abandoned by her mother. In Mimmi, Emma finds something to care about outside of ice skating, which has taken over her life to an unhealthy extent. However, director Alli Haapasalo and writers Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen aren’t naive to how such a co-dependent dynamic can soon turn sour. Both girls cling to each other to meet emotional needs that aren’t met elsewhere in their lives, and they soon start to hurt each other, particularly Mimmi, whose abandonment issues manifest in cruel ways.
Rönkkö’s problem is a little different. She confides in Mimmi that she’s never enjoyed sex before, and she’s not sure why. Rönkkö’s conflict is one I’ve rarely, if ever, seen depicted in a film before: is she asexual, or as a heterosexual woman, has she only ever been with men who didn’t care about her pleasure? She goes on a quest full of sexual escapades in order to find out. By contrast, Mimmi and Emma’s sex is great, as both are intent on making sure the other one is enjoying themselves; Mimmi tells Emma, “I love that I can give you pleasure.” Meanwhile, Rönkkö gives a stranger a handjob, has sex with a guy who gets annoyed and storms off when she tries to tell him how best to pleasure her, and accidentally vomits on her very sweet date after an evening of drinking to psych herself up. It’s refreshing that her sweet date isn’t a third-time’s-a-charm “eureka!” moment in which Rönkkö finds the perfect man for her, even though he is really nice. By the end of the film, she’s met yet another potentially-not-terrible romantic interest, so she has promising options, without finding The One who will “fix her.”
Girl Picture is a messy but fun, big-hearted, and honest depiction of girlhood, with a great soundtrack full of modern music that you feel like these girls might actually listen to. Its strength is how real and nuanced Mimmi, Rönkkö, and Emma feel as characters, which made me wish the filmmakers had a TV show runtime to flesh them out, rather than having to squeeze a bit too much character development into a feature film. The result is a film that’s a bit formless, and inconclusive. Still, the ambiguous note it ends on is also a sort of strength, refusing to suggest these girls have figured themselves out yet. Mimmi and Emma love each other, but will their relationship work out? Who knows. Rönkkö hasn’t reached a conclusion yet on what kind of sex (if any) she enjoys, even if she’s a few steps closer to knowing herself. Girl Picture gives you a brief peek into these girls’s lives, and I left happy to have met them.
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