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Peas in a Pod

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Ilkka Saastamoinen/Sundance Institute

MOVIE REVIEW
Girl Picture (2022)

It was disorienting to watch “Palm Trees and Power Lines” and “Girl Picture” back-to-back at the Sundance Film Festival. One is about a 17-year-old girl who throws herself into an abyss. The other is about three 17-year-old girls whose lives are full of fun. Both movies are award-winning depictions about groping teenage attempts to grow up and/or feel something, but “Palm Trees and Power Lines” is the ne plus ultra of horror. Fortunately “Girl Picture” is its opposite, a relaxed and humorous tale bursting with life in a safe environment. That’s not to say there’s no sour mixed in with the sweetness, but for a hopeful and charming tale about growing up, you could not do better.

“Girl Picture” takes place in Finland, where Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) and Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen) are best friends, both at school and at the mall-court smoothie stand where they work. Rönkkö, known to all exclusively by her surname, is preoccupied with getting better at sex and worried her previous awkward experiences mean she’ll never find love. Mimmi, who has dyed her hair but not her eyebrows brown, is preoccupied with authenticity, a quest made easier by the fact that she has her own little apartment – her mother lives with her new husband and little boy out in the suburbs. At the smoothie stand one Friday both girls meet friend-of-friends Emma (Linnea Leino), an accomplished figure skater who is herself preoccupied with the loss of one of her major skills shortly before a national competition. That night they all end up at the same party, where Rönkkö does some truly spectacularly inept flirting and Mimmi and Emma, well, don’t. The movie follows them over the next two Fridays and one Saturday to see whether their quests will come good. Will Mimmi be able to be truly herself despite the imperfections of everyone around her? Will Emma get her triple lutz back in time for the competition? And will Rönkkö enjoy a decent shag at last?

Director Alli Haapasalo, working from a script by Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen, has given us a movie to make everyone envious of that emotional freedom you briefly enjoy when you’re in your late teens, when your mistakes are rarely permanent and your certainty about your wonderful future overrides them anyway. There’s a fortunate physical freedom that the girls also enjoy – as someone always has a car, and there’s plenty of public transport – which means that they can navigate the city almost as adults, drinking in clubs or going to laser-tag parties in the woods with ease. But they are not on their own; in the background there are plenty of grown-ups keeping an understanding eye out, letting the girls do their own thing but having words when needed. Various boys are polite and respectful, even when someone, usually Mimmi, is acting out, and everyone thoughtfully models sexual consent. Emma has more back-up than the others, not just her cool, French-speaking mom (Cecile Orblin) but also her lifelong skating coach (Sonya Lindfors), both of whom have a clear-eyed understanding of Emma’s personality, and a fortunately high tolerance for teenage drama. Ms. Leino almost certainly did all her own skating, which is extremely impressive, and it’s in the skating scenes that the excellent, lighthearted music by Jan Forsström and the clever editing by Samu Heikkilä becomes most obvious. There’s a very funny sequence of Emma at practice, with the music and editing dramatically building to her big jumps, then cutting out when she falls, over and over again. But hope spring eternal, and these girls don’t stay knocked down for long. Even their foolish drunken fumblings are somehow filled with joy.

How did this all come together so well? There’s an underlying sense of fondness, with Mimmi at the center, but the support and encouragement the girls constantly offer each other and the movie offers them feels utterly genuine. There’s an awareness of human differences without making a big deal about it; certainly the cast is more organically diverse than a great many European productions, and the burgeoning relationship between Emma and Mimmi is taken at total face value, both of which are startling only in how rare both those things are. The three girls are an exceptional presence, separately and together, with a relaxed sense of themselves and a gentle sense of entitlement to navigate the world. And all their strengths are played to – Ms. Leino’s physical grace, Ms. Milonoff’s wounded defiance and Ms. Kauhanen’s endearing sincerity. Ms. Kauhanen even has some mild acne, so normal in your teenage years and so rarely shown on film. Their bright faces as they go about their lives tell you everything you need to know. We should all have been so lucky to have had such a girlhood. Everything about this enjoyable, adorable, joyous movie is a warm hug.

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