Sundance 2022 Review: An Empathy Develops in “Girl Picture”

“This is like a day care from hell,” Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) tells Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen), as the two survey the scene at a party in “Girl Picture,” after receiving an unexpected invitation while they were working at a smoothie stand at the mall. Mimmi would rather “watch every Disney live-action picture than go to a party in the suburbs,” but she’s not above helping a friend and Rönkkö’s convinced that there’s a guy there for her, having no illusions that she’s going to find the great love of her life, but hookups can come In handy as she’s starting to explore her sexuality, feeling disconnected from her body when previous encounters have yet to bring any type of satisfaction. Something similar could be said for Emma (Linnea Leino), whose mother actually insists on her going to the late night soiree to have a life outside of her practice as an ice skater with European championship ambitions, yet she can be found sitting in the back of the house, watching YouTube videos of triple lutzes and wondering why something that came so easily now eludes her when her physical skill isn’t in question.

All three of the young women are carrying around far more than they should at their age, and for as much trouble as Emma has skating these days, director Alli Haapasalo and writers Ilona Ahti and Daniela Hakulinen gracefully elide cliches in following the trio navigating a world that seems theirs for the taking but are held back by what they can’t yet quite comprehend. Far removed from concerns about overbearing parents or fitting into certain cliques, “Girl Picture” taps into the specifically teenage anxiety of wondering what intimacy looks like without any real frame of reference, leaving them not knowing who to trust, even themselves. A cloistered square frame is intriguingly there not to suggest being hemmed in, but instead a type of tunnel vision for what Mimmi, Rönkkö and Emma can see in a world that seems so carefree around them that they feel like freaks for worrying so much.

At least for Emma and Mimmi, there’s the promise of a new romance as the latter finds the former at the party and in spite of an earlier dust-up at the smoothie stand, the two would seem to meet each other’s needs perfectly while Rönkkö appears to be on a quixotic quest to find someone who could do the same for her. While Milonoff, Kauhanen and Leino all throw in delicious nuances that prevent their characters from feeling like types – Rönkkö and Mimmi are about as endearing a pair of minimum wage workers as Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates’ Stacy and Linda in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” – the film’s structure allows one to admire the strengths they draw on individually, whether it’s Mimmi’s confidence, Rönkkö’s willingness to put herself out there or Emma’s stable family while exposing what each of them are chasing through comparison. Although the three-week timeline should perhaps mean more than it does, with the intensity of Mimmi and Emma’s relationship and the drama around its implications occasionally feeling curious, “Girl Picture” gets it right in way you don’t often see, highlighting how freedom can bring about the unseen limits of being young and the risks that can shape one later in life, even taking a few itself.

“Girl Picture” will screen at the Sundance Film Festival virtually on January 26th for a 48-hour window, starting at 8 am MT.