The ’80s body-transfer movie is apparently alive and well in Sweden, or at least in “Girls Lost,” a modest teenage fantasy in which three girls get a shot at being boys after drinking the sap of a magic plant. Adapted from a novel by Jessica Schiefauer that won a Swedish prize for YA fiction, screenwriter-helmer Alexandra-Therese Keining’s movie is fitfully complex in its depiction of fluid sexual identity, but also somewhat plodding and eager to spell out what might have worked better as subtext. LBGT-oriented fests seem like the most likely option for play; critical support will be crucial to determining whether the film goes further, as the tonally similar “Let the Right One In” did.
Mood-wise, “Girls Lost” also sometimes suggests a distaff version of the Spielbergian adolescent-bonding movies from the “Goonies” era. (A synth score by Sophia Ersson, who sings some of the songs on the soundtrack, helps to set a retro vibe.) The action centers on Kim (Tuva Jagell), a 14-year-old who, along with her friends Momo (Louise Nyvall) and Bella (Wilma Holmen), is mercilessly bullied at school. This changes when Bella finds a mysterious seed that, once planted, will produce a flower in only one night. Following a strange evening of costume partying (replete with torches and “Eyes Wide Shut”-style masks), the girls goad one another into sampling the sap — and, in one cut during a trancelike sequence, they suddenly find that they are boys. (Kim, Momo and Bella’s male counterparts are played by Emrik Ohlander, Alexander Gustavsson and Vilgot Ostwald Vesterlund, respectively.)
This masculinization wears off by morning, but their changed perspective stays with them. (Back at school, as girls, Kim and Momo show a newfound confidence and each turn the tables on a tormentor.) On their first night out as guys, far from being outcasts, the trio receive an invitation to play soccer and attend a party. They take to hanging out with small-time thief Tony (Mandus Berg), who introduces them to life on the wrong side of the tracks. Kim becomes smitten with him and, with a bit of reckless driving, suggests that she may have a taste for living at least as dangerously as he does. The only one of the three who is happier as a boy than as a girl, Kim senses that Tony’s tough-guy act may conceal a more complex identity.
While the fantasy elements are perhaps pro forma, the movie’s complicated depiction of attraction is not. (The unrequited-love-triangle plot amounts to something like “girl-turns-boy-meets-boy, girl-turns-boy-turns-girl-loves-girl.”) Still, “Girls Lost” drags a bit and has a habit of unsubtly stating its themes. “Sometimes it feels like I have a zipper somewhere,” Kim confesses to Momo early on, before she’s become a boy. “If I’m brave enough to pull it, that’s the real me.” While hardly gratuitous, intimations of suicide and a scene of attempted rape may make the film a troublesome sell for a younger crowd.
Lenser Ragna Jorming gives the movie a rich and colorful palette, decked out with butterflies, cutaways to science footage of cells multiplying, and the occasional editing freakout.