Everything that matters happens on a Friday night. Not a bright and early Monday morning; not a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s all about Friday, or so says “Girl Picture,’ at least, in its teenage coming-of-age triptych.
Set across three Fridays featuring the same three adolescent girls, “Girl Picture” is a thoughtful, funny, and empathetic look at lives in flux.
At the center of the film are free-spirited Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) and loyal Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), best friends who also work together after school at their mall’s smoothie stand (featuring fruit-themed punny names, including “It Takes Two to Mango”). There, they dish and waste time. They’re teenagers, the brink of their life approaching with great swiftness. None of these girls is all too focused on her studies of her but rather on the romance and tumult and sex that comes with adolescence.
At the smoothie stand, Mimmi meets the much more self-serious Emma (Linnea Leino), a competitive figure skater with little to no time for extracurricular socializing. There’s an undeniable spark between Mimmi and Emma, and slowly but surely, the former works to get the latter out of her shell from her. In the meantime, Rönkkö seeks pleasure wherever she can find it, determined to have the kind of sex that makes people want to keep having it, rather than the lackluster, passionate adolescent coupling she’s endured thus far.
From there, “Girl Picture” is relatively light on plot, the greatest bit of dramatic tension revolving around a skating jump that Emma has lost the ability to perform. For the most part, “Girl Picture” is quiet and chatty, prone to trendy needle drops (Perfume Genius and Tove Styrke) and colorful lighting. It’s all very Huji filter, with music-video aesthetics and styling (consider Mimmi’s sleek, bleached eyebrows, for instance). But the screenplay by Daniela Hakulinen and Ilona Ahti is full of nuance and room to breathe. These girls are figuring out who they are, and the script is smart enough to know they won’t have answers to those questions after the third Friday night.
The girls’ conversations feel open and earnest, their jokes smug and immature the way only teens’ jokes are. “I’d rather watch a live-action Disney film than go to a party in the suburbs,” Mimmi threatens at one point. But their lives feel real and respected, their relationships — especially the queer one between Mimmi and Emma — are not played for titillation or brownie points. There’s a sensitivity to Alli Haapasalo’s direction that imbues the film with a rich empathy.
All three leads are more than competent and capable, each bringing a distinctive sense of character to their performance. Mimmi is whip-smart but rebellious, always winking and teasing, while Emma’s ambition never quite overpowers the big heart beating beneath her leotard. Perhaps the most compelling performance comes from Eleonoora Kauhanen in her debut feature film: Rönkkö’s arc is also the most compelling, with the greatest pitfalls. Rarely if ever do we see narratives about women, let alone girls, seeking out sex of a certain quality. She’s not seductive, nor is she comical. She’s just someone who seeks and enjoys pleasure — a character for whom there is much life left to be lived. Kauhanen sparkles with possibility in every scene she’s in, always glancing around the room to see who she might go home with.
“Girl Picture” ought to feel content with its flowy, not especially narrative form, but by its final act, the film starts to scramble for a plot. Tensions that were otherwise buried or non-existent rear their ugly heads, and in an instant, the girls are at odds with each other. It’d be one thing if “Girl Picture” was brave enough to leave things unresolved, as they often are, but instead there’s a rush towards closure and neatness that leaves a rushed, unfulfilling taste in the mouth.
In a movie that often feels quite radical in how low-key and casual it all feels, the big blow-ups and arguments read all too convenient, the mechanics of a screenwriter at work. Something striving for its truthfulness would be full of smaller conflicts, perhaps, or save those for other days of the week not portrayed on film here.
Still, there’s a remarkable loveliness to “Girl Picture,” a film that strives for heartfelt beauty and humility in the most confusing and unpredictable time in its characters’ lives. It would be easy to fall into a trap of stereotypical teen tropes, or to treat its protagonists as more capable than they are. Instead, Mimmi, Emma, and Rönkkö are granted the space not only to change, but to grow — and little could be more miraculous than that.
“Girl Picture” opens in US theaters Aug. 12.