Greta Gerwig’s brilliant Lady Bird and Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart are some of the more recent examples of a coming-of-age story done right. They were unashamed to make their protagonists complex and often internally messy. Saoirse Ronan’s Lady Bird is a self-centred brat while both Amy and Molly were frustratingly naive in Booksmart.
The latest director to bring forth a convincing tale of young restlessness is Finnish Alli Haapasalo with Girls Girls Girls. September marks the first month, perhaps ever, that two Finnish films, both directed by women, will premiere in UK cinemas. Both Girls Girls Girls (also known as Girl Picture in the US) and Hatching, directed by Hanna Bergholm, challenge the global view of Finland as an endlessly content and happy country.
The story follows Mimmi (Aamu Milonoff) and Rönkkö (Eleonoora Kauhanen). Mimmi is confident in her sexuality and is drawn to Emma (Linnea Leino), a talented ice skater who is questioning her passion for the sport. The two begin a rocky relationship that might end up holding both of them back rather than provide much needed clarity about their respective futures.
Meanwhile, Rönkkö is on a journey to enjoy sex as well as find true love. Her idea of love is grande and overwhelming but she’s constantly disappointed by the lack of connection and pleasure in her encounters. She’s forced to re-examine her relationship with intimacy and what she really wants from relationships.
Both Hatching and Girls Girls Girls include an element that’s all too familiar to many Finns: the pressure to do well in a sport that begins as a hobby but might turn into a career. In Hatching, it was gymnastics. In Girls Girls Girls, it’s ice skating. Emma feels the pressure to perform and excel on ice, but has lost a well-scoring trick she needs to master before the big championships. Emma’s arc is explored a little heavy-handedly here, but it’s a wonderfully resonant story line.
Girls Girls Girls explores the difficulty of being young and not knowing where you’re going. All three girls are aimless in their own ways and their anxieties are treated with empathy and warmth by Haapasalo and writers Ilona Lahti and Daniela Hakulinen. Haapasalo never treats these young women and their issues as something fleeting but as something that will shape them forever. This is when and where these women lay the foundations to what kind of a person they eventually want to be. And mostly, they all just want to love and be loved in return, to quote Moulin Rouge.
Visually and thematically, Girls Girls Girls is reminiscent of HBO’s Euphoria. There’s plenty of neon lighting to be found here and while it’s never quite as scandalous as the Zendaya-starring TV show, it has a similar approach to sex. Young people are having it, whether their parents want it or not, so why not talk about it in a way that makes it a little more approachable?
The most refreshing thing about the film is how there is no conflict of sexuality. Neither Emma or Mimmi struggles with their queer identity. Rönkkö also feels sexually comfortable, simply unsatisfied and disappointed. Haapasalo constantly treats sex and sexuality as something everyone has the right to; it’s not a privilege nor is it something that necessarily warrants struggle. But as much as Haapasalo’s film is about sex, it’s also about the varying degrees of desire we all experience. In Girls Girls Girls, t’s just as fine to have a lot of sex as it is to not even want sex.
Towards the end, the film becomes a little scattered and loses its focus. It never properly examines the girls’ motivations and it threatens to slip into a melodrama as Mimmi and Emma inevitably clash. But the film is so full of heart that even when it stumbles, Girls Girls Girls remains a triumph and a vital part of not just Finnish cinema, but European cinema.
Girls Girls Girls will be released in the UK on 30th September 2022.