The Starling Girl

Directed by: Laurel Parmet
Distributed by: Bleecker Street

Written by Jeff Sparks


There’s been plenty of films about the oppression that individuals can feel from religion. Just earlier this year “You Can Live Forever” came to VOD. While this film is similarly about sexual awakening and the discovery of individuality, the raw and nuanced direction makes it feel different. The film stars Eliza Scanlen as Gem Starling, a 17-year-old girl whose been raised in a Christian fundamentalist family. Her mother (Wrenn Schmidt) is uber-religious, while her washed-up former musician father (Jimmi Simpson) struggles to remain dedicated to the church. When Gem begins to question her faith, she enters a secret relationship with Owen, a 28-year-old man (Lewis Pullman) from her church. “The Starling Girl” stands out for two reasons: the detailed direction by Parmet and the top-tier performance by Scanlen who is quickly becoming one of the world’s best actors. Her subtle movements in every scene give Gem a portrayal of raw and real emotion that bleeds through the screen. In one scene early on Owen tries to reject Gem’s advances but when they’re alone at the church one night he invites her into his office. Scanlen gives a quick look of worry that lets us know that she knows she will fear the consequences, but she’s going to be intimate with him anyway. Besides the subtlety, her accent also convinces. Not everyone can do the southern dialects. Even the great Noomi Rapace struggled with her southern accent earlier this year in “Django.” The performances of other players are each solid as well. Pullman delivers as usual and Simpson works well in the first dramatic turn I’ve seen him in.

Besides Scanlen’s memorable work, Parmet’s attention to detail in her direction also impresses. My favorite example of this is when Gem receives bad news about a family member who is in critical condition in the hospital. After receiving the news her mother tells her that she still has to go to the barbeque at the church. As Gem begins to cry in her quiet room the scene transitions to the barbeque. We see the crowd chattering and enjoying the day as they grab some burgers and dogs before the camera reveals Gem sitting by herself, dissociating from the party. Parmet’s quick edit to the next scene says “If Gem doesn’t get to process this sad moment on her own time, then why should the viewer?” “The Starling Girl” has put Parmet on the list of directors to keep an eye on in the future and also serves as a reminder that Scanlen is currently a top-tier actor.

“The Starling Girl” Trailer

You can follow Jeff Sparks on Instagram and Letterboxd.

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