This article appears in our 2017 Winter issue, Chaos. Subscribe today!
Growing up as the only child of a single mother isn’t easy. Especially not for Varpu Miettinen (Linnea Skog), the 12-year-old protagonist of Little Wing. The film, which takes place in Finland, explores Varpu’s relationship with her mother, Siru Miettinen (Paula Vesala), as they both work toward their own growth and independence and as Varpu attempts to find and know her estranged father.
Don’t expect a whimsical story here. Little Wing deals with Varpu’s coming of age in realistic terms. In one scene, a teenage boy named Anttu (Pyry Rautiainen) attempts to make a move on Varpu. When she tells him she isn’t ready to have sex, he doesn’t understand, and she defends her right to say “no” until he storms out. It’s a sobering moment, one that shows Varpu as a young girl thrust into an adult world.
Little Wing hits its peak when it examines Varpu and Siru’s relationship. More often than not, Siru acts like a teenager around Varpu. The young girl advises her mother on online dating, comforts her after she fails her driving test, and snuggles with her to stave off her loneliness. But their relationship is complicated; just as often as Varpu takes on a maternal role, Siru overcomes her limitations and acts like an adult. The film explores that dynamic quite well through simple yet meaningful interactions between the two women.
The plot doesn’t quite come together in some moments. In one scene, Varpu drives a stolen car across Finland with the hopes of meeting her father in Oulu. While her midnight drive is a beautiful ode to her struggle for autonomy, it’s hard to believe a 12-year-old girl would be able to drive across Finnish highways for so long without being stopped by police. Occasionally, in scenes like this, the film strains the viewer’s ability to suspend disbelief, but the chemistry between Little Wing’s cast members keeps the movie afloat, even during its low points.
Little Wing is a touching film, and while it’s dark at times, it is also unafraid to explore the complex problems facing a girl who is coming of age. Little Wing might not be the film of choice for a moviegoer looking for something a little more upbeat. But it’s a mature film that takes the women in it seriously, which is worthy of praise in its own right.