Sundance 2022: “Girl Picture” Is a Lively and Loving Slice-of-Life Look at Teens Teetering on the Cusp of Adulthood

Girl Picture is an introspective film chronicling the tumultuous emotions, bewildering betrayals and passions of young adult friendships and romance.

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Eleonoora Kauhanen (Rönkkö), Aamu Milonoff (Mimmi), and Linnea Leino (Emma) in Girl Picture by Alli Haapasalo. (Ilkka Saastamoinen / Courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

This is one in a series of film reviews from the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, focused on films by women, trans or nonbinary directors that tell compelling stories about the lives of women and girls. You can find all the reviews together here.

Winner of the Audience Award in the World Cinema: Dramatic category, Girl Picture (its title in the original Finnish is Tytöt tytöt tytöt) may seem on the surface to be a modest slice-of-life film about three Fridays in the life of three teenage girls. In fact, director Alli Haapasalo even described the film (written by Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen) during her introduction as a “fragment … that contains the whole universe.”

Happasalo’s description is wonderfully apt since Girl Picture manages to be a rare pleasure: an introspective film chronicling the tumultuous emotions, bewildering betrayals and passions of young adult friendships and romance without devolving into unrealistic melodrama or saccharine platitudes. For the most part, even the moments where the characters themselves don’t seem to understand their own motivations—especially in these moments, actually—the teenagers’ actions and reactions feel, sometimes painfully, real.

Caught on the cusp of adolescence and adulthood, the three young women in the film are all different, but face parallel crises related to family, love, sex and ambition.

Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) is disaffected and aggressive, often performing a kind of familiar teenage cynicism at the plebian carryings-on of her classmates. She has a strained relationship with her mother, who leaves Mimmi largely alone to fend for herself in favor of her new husband and Mimmi’s young half-brother. Mimmi and her best friend, Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), work together at a mall smoothie shop, where the two frequently converse about relationships and life. Rönkkö, for her part, struggles with her lack of sexual attraction to any of the boys she meets and is desperate to figure out why she can’t seem to muster anything beyond platonic affection.

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Eleonoora Kauhanen (Rönkkö) in Girl Picture by Alli Haapasalo. (Ilkka Saastamoinen / Courtesy of the Sundance Institute)

At the smoothie shop, Mimmi meets Emma (Linnea Leino), a teen ice skating phenom who has a real shot at competing in the European championships—if only she could work through her mental block around the Triple Lutz. At first Mimmi rubs Emma the wrong way, but when they meet again at a party later that same night, Mimmi’s a lot more charming, and the two girls begin a whirlwind romance that ratchets in intensity with the speed of Romeo and Juliet. Rönkkö is thrilled for her best friend, even as she resents Mimmi’s quick and easy romance when she can’t figure out if she’ll ever enjoy sex with another person, let alone fall in love.

In the coming weeks, things between Mimmi and Emma begin to unravel as the former negotiates her feelings about her absent mother and the latter struggles with nerves about her upcoming qualifying competition. Both Emma and Mimmi engage in acts of self-sabotage and self-recrimination that will likely resonate for any viewer who made reckless, inexplicable decisions as a teenager and grew up a little when they had to grapple with the consequences. Somewhat on the sidelines, Rönkkö negotiates challenges of her own while continuing to support Mimmi, and eventually Emma, as their romance ebbs and flows.

Through exceptional acting, thoughtful writing and beautiful cinematography, Girl Picture conveys both the outer and inner states of its characters with remarkable clarity and insight. I particularly appreciated that the film didn’t linger over the big picture, commonly represented teen anxieties like coming out or losing one’s virginity. The characters in Girl Picture are secure in their interests and comfortable talking about sex; their concerns run deeper and have greater nuance than we usually see depicted in coming-of-age films.

Almost adults, but still child-like in their profound emotional responses to the world around them, Mimmi, Rönkkö and Emma come off the screen as vital young women just trying to figure out, like anyone, who they are and who they have the potential to become.  

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About

Aviva Dove-Viebahn is an assistant professor of film and media studies at Arizona State University and a contributing editor for Ms.'s Scholar Writing Program.