Little Wing is about its characters hopes and dreams, though they’re resolutely more humble. The off-beat debut feature by Selma Vihunen follows Varpu, a young girl navigating the transition into adolescence while living with her emotionally adolescent mother, Siru. While Siru thinks her own problems will be solved if she can just pass a driver’s test (she repeatedly fails), eleven-year-old Varpu teaches herself how to drive via cars hot-wired by her new peer group. This vehicular irony is important, not just for the glaring illustration that Varpu proves more capable than her mother in this regard, but also because of its symbolism of adulthood juxtaposed with her greatest passion hitherto: riding horses and ponies, which she still does, though is beginning to recognize she probably won’t forever. Hence, as Varpu is in many ways more mature than her mother, her increasing desire for answers about the world and how she fits into it seem inexplicable at home.
Thus, she begins to look for answers elsewhere. Her first instinct is to inquire about her estranged father, who she has no real memory of, but whom she hopes might help illuminate something about herself if she can only track him down. This doesn’t prove too difficult − at least to find out what town he’s living in − and with her newfound driving skills in tow, she sets off on a road trip to find her dad. The adventure takes some twist and turns, but while Varpu finds her father (with the eventual help of her worried mother), she doesn’t find what she was looking for. Cracks begin to appear in her father’s facade after a good first impression (he’s schizophrenic), and Varpu is both reconciled to why her mother is on her own, and to the fact there may be no answers to be had at all. All the adults she encounters are far from perfect no matter where she goes, and nobody really seems to have anything quite figured out. Indeed, adults appear little more than relatively experienced adolescents, and perhaps everyone is simply getting by, making mistakes as they go along. It’s not exactly a message, in fact it’s more of a non message, but one that frees the film from any didactic conventions, keeping it disarming, curious, and easy to sympathize with.
Formally, the film sometimes feels a bit listless, and the performances are a little uneven – though Lauri Maijala as the father is very good – but in the end it remains an original, quirky, and funny film, which certainly showcases the promise of Vihunen’s voice.