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girl-picture.jpeg

Review: 'Girl Picture' is a Coming-of-Age Story that Takes The Little Things Seriously

By Isabel Parigi | Film | August 17, 2022 |

By Isabel Parigi | Film | August 17, 2022 |


girl-picture.jpeg

On Friday afternoons my (all-girls Catholic) high school took on the unforgettable scent of fake tanner and sweat. Still, that smell punctuates the adolescent nothings that made Fridays feel like a consequence-free wasteland in between childhood and the ever-advancing adult beyond. The Finnish coming-of-age dramedy Girl Picture (2022) follows three teenage girls through three consecutive Fridays and manages to elicit (for me) the very self tan-Alien By Mugler-teen angst Eau de Parfum that marked the growing anticipation of the first night of the weekend. I would not be surprised if everyone who sees this film walks out of the theatre with a similar visceral (or scent) memory of carefree Fridays that simultaneously felt like the only thing in the world.

Directed by Alli Haapasalo, written by Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen, and produced by Citizen Jane, Girl Picture doesn’t make you wish to be 17 again as much as it makes you want to wrap your teenage-self—overwhelmed, horny, and painfully awkward—in a bear hug. Haapasalo creates an almost anti-Euphoria by scaling the three girls’ lives to only the details revealed by their Friday rituals. Instead of episode-long backstories and Monday through Friday looks that make Cher and Dion seem lazy, Girl Picture focuses on giving a best friend symmetrical winged eyeliner and unshakeable giggles from intimately titled smoothies. Although Haapasalo often drenches the girls in red and pink light as they dance, or, in one instance, presents the curious view of a blow job distorted and multiplied by the kaleidoscope-effect of a shower curtain, she recognizes the cusp of adulthood for what it so often is: responsibilities and someone else’s structure punctuated by moments of self-discovery that comparatively mean everything.

The three eighteen-year-old (I assume, as they seem to have no problem ordering drinks or going to clubs) girls are united by the rebellious and inquisitive Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff), whose bleached eyebrows and spiky hair give an air of effortless Eastern European cool. Mimmi’s best friend, smoothie shop workmate, and fellow social outcast, Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) seems the less confident of the two, freezing upon being asked out and later confessing to Mimmi that she wants to, but never has, felt sexually satisfied. The pair is rounded out by Mimmi’s blossoming romantic relationship with a girl named Emma (Linnea Leino) who is a competitive figure skater. Emma’s life revolves around her professional competitive career, training responsibilities, and taking care of her fine-tuned body. For further technical exploration scroll to the end.*

Over the course of three Fridays Emma and Mimmi fall in love, both shirking their commitments to fall lazily back in bed together. The girls reveal their physical and emotional wounds to each other in between excited adolescent intimate scenes. I think Haapasalo purposefully shot all the intimate scenes in the film to read as neither entirely clinical nor necessarily sexy. They are awkward, but never awkward to the point of being a joke. Rönkkö, on the other hand, searches for sexual satisfaction. In an early scene, she explains to Mimmi how she wants to feel a sort of profound intimacy with someone but doesn’t know how, or if, she is capable of it. She fumbles through methods and advice to answer her hormones and find fulfilling intimacy with a partner. We watch Rönkkö brush off miscalculations and disappointing partners to keep trying for quality sex with the best kind of adolescent idealism. Where, in an American film, the audience might begin to worry for Rönkkö’s safety as she takes on more sexual agency, the world of Girl Picture—regardless of how realistic—offers an idealistic look at a generation raised with widespread understanding of the language and spectrum of consent.

The first two acts of the film revel in the non-plot points of adolescence: debating plans, doing makeup, and laughing at the people outside of your own little world. The third act of Girl Picture, unfortunately, pulls back from the non-plot structure and sets up for a final official narrative moment. I did not dislike the conclusion as much as I wish that I got to see a third act of banter and throw-away moments that continue to contour and lay shape to the grey area of adolescence. The three girls push boundaries in their own small ways. One of the smallest, and my favorite of the film is the parallels of Mimmi’s gym class behavior between the first and second Friday. While the first Friday ends in an aggressive outburst toward a teammate and an all too familiar (for those of us not gifted in the traditional athleticism department) rant about the futility of sports, the next week—without displaying any particular athletic development—she participates in the game, even offering her former enemy teammate a high-five. Maybe Mimmi feels like trying because of her newfound interest in Emma. I, however, interpreted it as Mimmi rebelling against herself, testing what it means to be Mimmi and how her cynicism holds up against an opponent as strong as herself.

Although American viewers will likely notice some cultural gaps and imperfect phrase-for-phrase translation (often consent is translated to the somewhat awkward: “May I lick you?”), Girl Picture is the kind of movie I wish I could have seen at 18 and am glad to have seen today. It has all the candy-colored hues and adolescent edge of a less surrealist Daisies, the nuance of what the American-sexual-exploration genre has thus far failed to understand, and needle drops that would likely make Edgar Wright’s knees buckle.

*At this point I must digress from film review and confess that I, too, was a competitive figure skater (until the day I left for college). Early in the film, Emma falls over and over again on her triple-lutz, later revealing to Mimmi that she has “lost it [her triple-lutz].” As silly as it sounds, that is the common vernacular for when jumps that used to be consistent, seemingly disappear. Skaters make a strange habit of using possessives. Elements are never just AN element, it’s your element. MY double axel. HIS quad-toe loop. HER triple lutz. “Losing” jumps is a common frustration among female figure skaters as their bodies develop through an often postponed puberty and adolescence. It is jumps that you “lose” that tend to produce the worst falls, bruises, and mental block. I was never a particularly gifted jump-er, and was never the kind of fearless required of competing at the highest levels of the sport. Just like Emma, I was referred to a number of “mental coaches” to resist calcifying mental block. Regardless, I can attest to the stress that Haapasalo masterfully weaves throughout Emma’s story.

Unfortunately, figure skating is a very tough sport to recreate through “movie magic.” Emma’s body double performs Olympic-caliber elements (jumps, spins, and choreography), achieved by shooting from her thigh down. However, front-facing shots of Emma are clearly that of an actress and not, as we are supposed to believe, a champion figure skater. There is a certain grace and on-ice presence that comes with years of training, not easily replicable by even the most athletic of actresses. For instance, the thigh-down shots show graceful crossovers—power developing in-between steps accomplished by crossing one leg over the other mid-squat, while keeping everything from the torso up perfectly square—but face forward shots reveal a somewhat beginner using their whole body to balance and move across the ice. On a more tangible note, Emma’s body double wears Edea Ice Fly skates, a fairly common boot model among elite skaters made more popular by its modern design, most noticeably a plastic silver heal (as opposed to a traditional wood base). Front-facing Emma, on the other hand, wears either an Edea Motivo or Tempo boot, beginner models featuring a more classic brown heal. The only reason I mention it is because it could have been easily remedied by over the boot tights. All my figure skating gripes are nit-picky considering how thoroughly I enjoyed the movie but the contrasts, both physical and material, were so jarring that it took me out of an otherwise accurate and thoughtful depiction of the life of a figure skater.

Girl Picture is playing in select theaters in the US.