Review of Supervoksen (Super Grown-Up)

A scene from SupervoksenA scene from Supervoksen

Director Christina Rosendahl's first feature film, Supervoksen (“super grown-up”), took everyone by surprise by going directly to the top of the Danish chart, beating Superman on the way. When it comes to lesbian teen visibility, the film constitutes another small miracle. One of its three main characters, 16-year-old Sofie (Cathrine Bjørn), is the first lesbian teen in Danish film history and represents a positive leap forward by international standards as well.

Best friends Rebekka, Sofie and Claudia share a familiar teenage problem: Where does childhood end and life as a grown-up start? To clarify things, the girls decide to create their own ritual inspired by African rites of transition, but updated for modern teenagers. Instead of carving tattoos into each others' skin, they take turns at daring each other in the sexual field, and although it quickly becomes clear that growing up isn't quite that simple, each of the girls does mature in her own way. In Sofie's case, she comes to terms with being gay.

The fact that Sofie isn't exactly straight is hinted at early on. She says, “I don't think I've ever felt like that for a guy” to her straight girlfriends, who are oblivious. But in addition to that obvious hint, the film employs more subtle, cinematic techniques to hint at her sexuality, such as a floating camera ride across a room the first time we see Sofie with Katrine, the senior from her high school whom she has a crush on. When Sofie is dared to kiss a girl, a task considered easy by her friends, it is therefore pretty clear that more is at stake. Her protests are overruled, however, and eventually she approaches Katrine, who fortunately doesn't mind playing her part.

If Sofie's story stumbles anywhere, it is here. Katrine remains a somewhat unlikely, utopian character — she is a gorgeous, self-confident, 18-year-old lesbian willing and available to help a 16-year-old baby dyke out of her closeted misery. Nonetheless, the romantic encounter between the two works, and it provides the film with its most sensual scene, gay or straight.

The moment is handled with refreshing ease: The camera does not pan away after half a kiss but allows us to linger with the couple, thereby granting Sofie's love life the same status as those of her straight friends. This is underlined when the scene is mirrored by a later one depicting a romantic encounter between Rebekka and her brother's friend Adam. The age difference, the awkward silence broken by goofy remarks, even the posing of the characters are similar, and the message is clearly that Sofie and Rebekka are fundamentally experiencing the same thing. Gender is unimportant.

Unfortunately this is still not quite clear to Sofie. Overwhelmed by this new knowledge of herself, she lies to her friends, insisting that she has failed at her task and should be given another one. When she eventually gets her way and has had time to cope with what happened, the second task provides yet another example of how easily Supervoksen interweaves straight and queer story lines. As a final dare, Sofie has to “tell someone you love him,” and the “him” is simply substituted by a “her” in a sweet confrontation with Katrine.

This time around Sofie does not win Katrine, who is a senior after all. But she carries a broad, post-coming-out smile of relief on her face during the rest of the film and becomes the character who develops the most.

Even if the basic plot of Supervoksen is a bit far-fetched and some of the initial dialogue too stilted, Sofie's story comes across as sensitive and real. Its message is a universal one about daring to be true to yourself, not about lesbian hardship, since the overall attitude of the film is that being gay is as valid and normal as being straight. The film caters to its target teen group without any compromises, employing a flashy visual style, and all its adult characters are oblivious dopes. At the end of the day this is not a nuanced drama, but what we get is much more liberating: A funny, modern, youth-oriented film with broad mainstream appeal and a central, positively portrayed lesbian character.

If you can read Danish, check out the film here:

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