Girl Picture Review: Coming Of Age Is A Whole Vibe In This Tender Teen Portrait [Sundance 2022]

Clichés are a double-edged sword in "Girl Picture," ("Työt Työt Työt") a heartfelt portrait highlighting the messy highs and lows of girlhood. This turbulent Finnish coming-of-age tale sees three girls navigating the impossibilities of teenage love, wanting lives led by adventure but held back by their emotional baggage. Watching Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff), Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), and Emma (Linnea Leino) search for their place in the world, you'll quickly realize it's nothing you haven't seen before: a rebellious misfit, her sweet counterpart, and a hyper-focused athlete overwhelmed by ambition. These are character archetypes carved right out of your favorite teen drama — but director Alli Haapasalo takes care to set "Girl Picture" apart, pulling elements we've seen a million times before and weaving them into something wonderfully refreshing.

Volatile misfit Mimmi is our intro into the film, stewing in teen angst to the point of lashing out at her classmates during a tense gym class encounter. But we're catching Mimmi at a low point — just a scene later she's reigned in by the lightness of her best friend, Rönkkö, and the importance of their friendship is made abundantly clear: these are ride-or-die BFF's, with the kind of relationship that the rest of their lives orbit. When their school days come to a close, Mimmi and Rönkkö stick close, heading to work at the food court smoothie kiosk where they blend up ridiculously named drinks like, "It Takes Two To Mango." More importantly, this is where they bond — whether it be endless teasing or swapping stories of love gone wrong.

Insecurities are unpacked while they slice bananas and blend berries: one moment sees Rönkkö admit she never feels pleasure during sex, and later the girls resolve to attend a party, to help her quest for satisfaction. "I'm scared I'll never feel what others feel," Rönkkö admits to Mimmi. "I want to be so close to someone that it's not enough that your skin touches." Beyond setting them on a path towards our third protagonist, Rönkkö's dilemma hints at the powerful crux of "Girl Picture": there are plenty of conflicts woven into the film, but none of them are external.

A Captivating Trio

Rönkkö has never actually enjoyed sex and believes she must be the problem. So continuing the time-old tradition of teens giving one another bad advice, Mimmi tells her to "practice." If Rönkkö has plenty of sex, they figure, eventually it'll feel good. This sets up a terrifying scenario akin to a plotline you'd find in dark teen explorations like "Euphoria" — except "Girl Picture" isn't interested in outside threats. The story never strays far from the internal journeys of its leads as they navigate their feelings. Ultimately, Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen use Rönkkö's story to pen a careful exploration of sexuality, authentic in its awkwardness but tender in its execution. Kauhanen cements it through her bright portrayal of Rönkkö, charming and hilarious then achingly vulnerable. And as Rönkkö stumbles through various sexual encounters, determined to find her version of satisfaction, Mimmi unexpectedly finds love.

On the outskirts of a teen party scene sits Emma, a young ice skater only in attendance because her mother insists on living life beyond her ambitions. Ever focused on her goals, Emma opts to hide away, watching videos of skaters nailing triple lutzes; once her signature move, the jump now eludes her, threatening to end her lofty dreams of competing in the European championship. Enter Mimmi, who temporarily lifts all fear form Emma's shoulder. The girls don't exactly share an instantaneous connection — their first encounter is volatile, thanks to Mimmi's teasing cutting too deep — but the relationship quickly builds to a whirlwind romance, sweeping them up in its sweetness. Milonoff and Leino share irresistible chemistry, impossible to look away from as their young love blooms. Though the couple try to exist in a bubble of happiness, separate from the rest of the world, their issues remain internal and thus, inescapable. Leino is a frequent scene-stealer, wearing Emma's wounded determination on her sleeve, while Milonoff leads with endless charisma, all the more heartbreaking when her confidence falters.

Occasionally, "Girl Picture" falls into the inevitable traps of its clichés: the broader strokes of the storylines are outlined from the start. Emma traverses predictable road blocks and we get a mildly explored backstory for Mimmi's anger. Making matters a tinge more derivative, the film lifts needle drops straight from recent teen dramas, cutting down its otherwise fresh aesthetic. But mirroring its characters, the film thrives when it's uninhibited and living out its free-spirited dream. "Girl Picture" isn't breaking new ground, but that's mostly fine, because when it does break beyond the confines of its clichés, the film uses intimacy to its advantage.

"Girl Picture" ultimately spans three weeks, the effective framing device checking in with the girls on three consecutive Fridays. It's a breezy reminder of time, which otherwise doesn't seem to exist: the film completely zeroes in on the trio, offering the smallest snapshot of their lives. Who were they before we glimpsed these three weeks? Who will they be after? In the grand scheme of things, it's an achingly small period of time that might very well bear no influence on the rest of their lives. But that's the paradox of "Girl Picture" — this moment in time is both everything and nothing. Singular and inconsequential, but extraordinarily momentous. In one instance, Rönkkö declares she'll never find love: it's equal parts hilarious and heartbreaking. She truly believes her quest for pleasure is fruitless, and "Girl Picture" crafts a world so small and intimately focused that her hurt is understandable. Elsewhere, Emma and Mimmi are hopelessly in love by week two — and each moment of messy joy validates them. The otherwise low-stakes drama is so invested in their emotional state that the lows are bottomless, while the highs have no ceiling. Haapasalo plucks this tiny three-week period from the ether and every filmmaking trick in her quiver allows us to relish in it.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10