Review: Girl Picture

Though high school coming-of-age stories all adhere to a kind of universal vibe built on notions of sexual awakening and the burgeoning responsibilities of adulthood, each one is delineated by a specific socioeconomic milieu that must be carefully navigated to make the requisite conflicts credible. This Finnish feature focuses on three young women in their last year of school who seem to live in a world where they already function as adults, likely thanks to progressive social attitudes that prevail in Finland, and so the drama—as well as the comedy—is derived from the way they succeed or fail in this endeavor. 

Which isn’t to say they don’t suffer from stereotypical teenage angst. The first time we see Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) she’s barely participating in a field hockey game in gym class out of some inchoate hatred of all the things sports represents, and ends up busting a classmate in the shins out of frustration. Mimmi is thus prefigured as a cynical iconoclast whose bitterness stems from a feeling of abandonment after her mother remarries and has a baby boy who monopolizes her attention. Mimmi’s co-worker at a mall smoothie stand, Ronkko (Eleonoora Kauhanen), is a relatively excellent student whose hormones have gotten the best of her, and when she’s not busting out salacious sex talk at work with Mimmi she’s hitting up boys at parties without really projecting where that will get you. The third wheel is Emma (Linnea Leino), whom Mimmi meets cute at the aforementioned party and eventually gets into bed, despite Emma’s reluctance, which has less to do with sexual caution than with her disciplined life as a competitive figure skater. When Mimmi shows her that there’s more to life than triple lutzes Emma starts to doubt her career goals, which does a number not only on her head but on those of her French mother and her coach, neither of whom can imagine Emma not skating.

Director Alli Haapasalo juggles the three girls’ interactions and personal stories with admirable facility, but there’s not enough character distinction among them to make their material situations interesting. Though each girl does have an overriding emotional aspect, they seem cut from the same middle class, liberal-minded fabric. The dialogue is almost too coherent: This is how young girls talk as imagined by principled adults. Also, everybody drinks a lot and openly, and while alcohol is a common plot device in teen movies there’s no feeling here that it’s forbidden, unless Haapasalo’s intention was to contrast this “mature” content with the girls’ occasionally “innocent” behavior, usually depicted in trite montage segments of them laughing and clowning around. Simplistic psychology is understandable for addressing adolescent anxiety, but in Girl Picture the psychology is a function of the production design rather than the story. 

In Finnish and French. Opens April 7 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Cinema Qualite (03-3352-5645) and Yebisu Garden Cinema (0570-783-715).

Girl Picture home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2022 Citizen Jane Productions

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