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Film Review: ‘Girl Picture’ is a Familiar but Authentic Coming-of-Age Story

The high school traditions of navigating cliques, extracurricular activities, house parties and other aspects of teenaged social life have long provided fertile ground for cinematic storytelling. Indeed, high school films have become one of the most popular subgenres in American cinema. Hailing from Finland, director Alli Haapasalo’s Girl Picture fits right in with classics like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, engagingly following the lives of three girls on the brink of adulthood.

The central trio at the heart of the story are schoolmates Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff), Ronkko (Eleonoora Kauhanen) and Emma (Linnea Leino). Longtime best friends, Mimmi and Ronkko work together at a smoothie stand in the mall, where Ronkko anxiously muses about achieving a true sexual awakening. For the devil-may-care Mimmi, such concerns are secondary to her carefree desire to live life on her own terms. But when she meets competitive figure skater Emma, a potential romance blooms, which is destined to change both of their outlooks for the future.

Portraying three distinct personalities, Milonoff, Kauhanen and Leino are compelling to watch as they embark on their characters’ individual and collective journeys of self discovery. And it’s an agreeable ride for much of the narrative, as the screenplay hits on familiar tropes involving mild bullying, awkward flirting and cathartic, neon-lit scenes on the dance floor. Though these earlier scenes are pleasantly nostalgic, you may be left wanting more dramatic tension.

Thankfully, Haapasalo digs deeper as Mimmi and Emma become more intimately involved and Ronkko further explores the world of dating and sex in search of seemingly elusive satisfaction. To Haapasalo’s credit, there’s a frankness to the girls’ conversations about sex which feels true to life, while also depicting their trysts with nonexploitative sensitivity. Furthermore, Milonoff conveys intriguing layers to Mimmi’s self-assured exterior, displaying a surprising vulnerability as she re-evaluates her own life in relation to Emma. Meanwhile, the challenges Emma faces in her athletics pursuits also give the film some emotional weight as she questions her true purpose.

Ultimately, Girl Picture hardly provides any new insight into the lives of teenage girls. But it strikes an authentic balance between the carefree innocence of youth and the anxiety-ridden fears of coming of age. You can easily imagine Cyndi Lauper’s immortal “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” gracing the soundtrack with the protagonists blissfully singing along. But as they come to realize the harsh realities accompanying the fun times, this Girl Picture reveals truths about the complexities of life and growing up.

SCORE: ★★★

Girl Picture is now playing in select theaters.

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Written by Shane Slater

Shane Slater is a passionate cinephile whose love for cinema led him to creating his blog Film Actually in 2009. Since then, he has written for AwardsCircuit.com, ThatShelf.com and The Spool. Based in Kingston, Jamaica, he relishes the film festival experience, having covered TIFF, NYFF and Sundance among others. He is a proud member of the African-American Film Critics Association.

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