Contrary to what one may immediately believe, women have a long and fruitful history of working as directors in the field of the teen sex comedy. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” written by Amy Heckerling, is considered a seminal work in the genre.
But the 1970s and 1980s also produced more obscure masterpieces like “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” which is a charming, little weird semi-autobiographical comedy written and directed by Linda Feferman. And in more recent years, Scandinavia has created some films about the sexual lives of adolescent females that are gently progressive and explicitly non-judgmental.
One film that exemplifies this trend is “Turn Me On, Goddammit!” by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, which has a delightfully catchy title (2011). This tradition is carried on in Alli Haapasalo’s newest picture, “Girl Picture,” which was directed by a Finnish filmmaker.
But despite the fact that “Girl Picture” doesn’t necessarily break any new ground, this delicately rendered comedy transports viewers into the world of three young Finnish women on the cusp of adulthood, and it does so with an affection and a mellow sense of humour that make it a more than an agreeable cinematic companion.
Even while the plot touches on many of the standard elements of teen sex comedies, such as first love, raging hormones, and awkward sexual encounters at parties, you shouldn’t anticipate any outrageous or gross-out moments in this particular story. The low-key and naturalistic approach that Haapasalo takes to the subject matter, combined with the great and vulnerable acting from the cast, creates the impression that these ladies’ experiences actually happened.
The story begins with social outcast best friends Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) and Ronkko (Eleonora Kauhanen), who are working at a smoothie store in the mall and talking about sex when a popular guy walks up to the cash register and asks them if they would like to come to a party. This scene is reminiscent of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which is another reference to the film.
Now, audiences who were brought up on American teen comedy set in the 1980s may have been conditioned to believe that proven losers Mimmi and Ronkko will face some kind of brutal public humiliation if they show up if they are dumb enough to do so. But it doesn’t.
Mimmi, who is more reserved and shy, opts to seek refuge somewhere quiet while her outgoing companion tries to strike up conversations with male students and inevitably embarrasses herself.
She quickly escapes into a tiled area with a small pool, and there she runs into Emma, played by Linnea Leino, a young woman of approximately the same age as Mimmi, whom Mimmi had rudely ignored earlier in the day when she stopped by the smoothie stand. Mimmi learns that Emma is a motivated and disciplined competitive figure skater whose life revolves around 5 a.m. practices and stringent food regimes after the two of them start communicating with one another.
Mimmi sees this as an opportunity to make amends for her cold and uncaring actions earlier in the day, so she convinces Emma to go out dancing with her. By the time the night is over, they had fallen head over heels in love with one another.
The majority of the running time in “Girl Picture” is devoted to the passionate romance that develops between Mimmi and Emma, along with all of the sports-related turmoil and muddled feelings that accompany it.
The rest of the story focuses on a subplot in which Ronkko, who may be an asexual of some sort, engages in a series of casual sexual experiences in the hope that she will one day learn to like having sex with other people. As was the case with the party scenes, Ronkko’s adventures highlight the cultural (or at least cinematic) differences between the United States and Finland.
The movie never questions whether it’s okay—not to mention safe—for her to be doing all of this, which feels very foreign (in a good way!) coming from the perspective of an American.
Some of “Girl Picture’s” cultural allusions and allusions to culture don’t transfer as easily: The revelation that Ronkko’s parents have effectively stopped communicating to her because they are ashamed of her mental illness comes at the end of the movie and has a Scandinavian chilliness to it that may be difficult for people from other cultures to appreciate.
The film allows this to happen naturally, as it does with everything else; this approach is far preferable to characters turning towards the camera and explaining how Finns deal with difficult family dynamics (apparently by ignoring them); however, it is perplexing in a manner that is comparable to the recent online dust-up regarding Swedes not offering their guests refreshments.
But “Girl Picture” doesn’t really have a problem with that at all. The purpose of the film is not to educate viewers about culture but rather to help viewers get to know and love these folks.
This is the point where Haapasalo’s light touch truly pays off: She concentrates on the film’s young actors and their performances throughout the film, occasionally pausing for extended, uninterrupted close-ups that focus on the faces of the girls as they silently ride a rollercoaster of teenage emotions.
The strain that young athletes like Emma are under is depicted in a particularly vivid manner, as is the shame that drives Mimmi to destroy any positive development in her life. In comparison, Ronkko’s inner world is less complex, but she receives the majority of the film’s (subtle, knowing) laughs, so all works out in the end.
Unfortunately, movies like “Girl Picture” that take the interior lives of adolescents as seriously as they should are still uncommon. The characters in “Girl Picture” are around the age of 18, which is the legal drinking age in Finland, but they still think and behave like children. Sure, there are silly, gross, and humiliating things about that time in your life when you’re technically an adult. For example, the characters in “Girl Picture” are around that age.
However, there are other experiences that are delicate, tragic, and transcendent that can be had at that age. What makes “Girl Picture” such a wonderful film is the way in which it captures the exquisite, agonizing, and confusing spectrum of feelings that comprise the human experience.