- Movie Rating -

Girl Picture (2022)

| August 18, 2022

I learned early in my life, thanks to the late-great World Book encyclopedia, that there are some parts of the northern world in which the sun never rises above the horizon for several months out the year.  The closer that you are to the Arctic Circle, the longer the period will last.  This is something almost unknown to us here in the southeastern United States.

I have learned recently that such a period of darkness can cause mental stress, and that moving around and keeping yourself busy is the best way to overcome it.  The girls who occupy this phenomenal time of year in Alli Haapasalo’s Finnish coming-of-age dramedy Girl Picture might have been stressed even without the half-strung darkness, or perhaps they are emblematic of it.  They’re young, not quite 20, out of the grasp of Mom and Dad, naïve to the point of great concern and all looking for a sense of freedom both emotionally and sexually.  What they find is not exactly earth-shattering, but their journey is filled with the kind of low-key experience that seems to spill out of real life.

The film takes place over a couple of weeks during the Winter Darkness and we follow a couple of friends and get to know them.  Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) and Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanan) are best buds working at a smoothie stand at the mall and, as the film opens, are having a very frank conversation about their potential sex lives.  Rönkkö’s immediate trajectory is kind of unusual for a movie like this: she wants to have sex with a man and find pleasure, not love, but pleasure.  Mimmi is all-too-willing to help her find it.

Two important things happen here that pay off an interesting way.  First, a guy asks the girls if they’d like to come to a party.  Second, Mimmi meets a plain-looking girl named Emma (Lianna Leino) who is so casually mean to Mimmi when she tries to strike up a conversation that it stops us cold.

The way that these things pay off is that – yes – Mimmi and Rönkkö end up at that party and – yes – Emma is there too.  Rönkkö, a misfit of casual social interaction, makes a fool of herself while trying to talk to a guy and then holes up in the homeowner’s bathtub just to collect herself and find some solace (her awkwardness with casual conversation threatens to become a running joke).  Meanwhile Mimmi strikes up an overdue conversation with Emma and learns that she is a budding figure skater whose life is a regimen of 5AM practice and strict dietary routine.  There is also an emotional wall built up around Emma that Mimmi is quick to punch through.  She invites Emma to dance and, very quickly, they fall in love.

The love story becomes the film’s larger focus and if you expect a romance of bland sitcom requirements, then you’re looking in the wrong place.  This is one of the most intelligent and well-observed love stories that I have seen in a long time.  These two young women seriously love each other, not just in the sexual arena but in the meeting of the heart and the mind.  There is a joy in their union that only youth can bring before the onset of age that brings experience and caution.  These girls haven’t reached that stage yet and so they react to their feelings with wild abandon.  What is exciting is watching them build their romance around the demands of Emma’s commitment to skating and what it ultimately costs them.  For Emma, Mimmi seems to be the first down-time that she has been allowed to experience, and the real drama comes down to whether she will choose love or skating.  That sounds like overly familiar territory but these girls are observed so specifically that you don’t really mind.

Rönkkö’s story is interesting too, as she works her way through a series of odd encounters while trying to find a young fellow to satisfy her.  For those of us just past the half-century mark in age, we get nervous waiting for the hammer to drop.  Something horrid this way comes, and to our surprise, it doesn’t.  This isn’t that kind of movie.  We wonder, and she wonders, what she really wants.  Her journey is unpredictable.  Rönkkö is developed into a character so specific that we can feel the confusion in her soul.  Does she want a man?  Does she want merely sex?  What is she looking for?  Perhaps she just wants the experience.

All of this is laid out in a beautiful screenplay by Iiona Ahti and Daniela Hakuinen that moves with the rhythms of real life, of the strange and random combinations that come with being young, being old enough to move out of the adult protectiveness but not with the experience that brings caution and regret.  We are always aware that any of these girls is headed for disaster but they don’t seem to know it yet.  The characters are drawn with careful consideration to who they are as individuals, and who they are as young women.  There’s nothing phony or arched about them.  I enjoyed the rhythms of their lives and the way in which they are giddy about the world around them, and deeply wounded by the frequent disappointments.

If there is one drawback, I think it may be the lack of consequences, or at least the conversation of consequences to the lives that these girls are living.  In a story involving young girls seeking sexual freedom, I am surprised that the script never includes a conversation about safe sex, contraception, or at least consent – which is very timely right now.  I was also dismayed by how little parental involvement is included.  Yes, they are older and they are moving out on their own but the danger level that should be present never reveals itself.

But those are minor points, not inconsequential, but minor.  I enjoyed this film very much.  I appreciated that it wasn’t beating the material with the hammer to give me what I wanted.  Girl Picture does not – as every other critic has already observed – break new ground, but there’s something in the very finite details of this picture that seems fresh, something in the location bound by a sun that never seems to rise.  For these girls, their immediate circumstances would seem to represent this.  Bless their hearts.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Comedy, Drama