Is it puberty or the devil talking? Good question.
“The Starling Girl” is something I’ve been curious about since I’ve seen it at the Sundance Film Festival. Writer/director Laurel Parmet makes her directorial debut of a coming-of-age story with religious themes. It’s not often I see this genre in the sense that it questions the main character’s faith, as well as her choices, whether or not they’re considered to moral.
Eliza Scanlen has the youth to push herself to new limits. “Little Women,” Babyteeth,” and “The Devil All the Time” are all entertaining examples, and now, “The Starling Girl” continues to prove how much I enjoy this young actress. And it’s also amazing how I’m able to see her adapting to such a complicated story about how she feels obligated to her faith and struggles to overcome the urges in her puberty.
Scanlen plays a teenager named Jim Starling, who lives in a religious community in Kentucky, and feels obligated to serve the Lord. She wants to dance, but feels it’s sinful to her. But that’s the least of her worries. She falls in love with youth pastor Owen (Lewis Pullman), which also feels sinful, considering their age difference and the fact that he is in an unhappy marriage. Adultery and statutory rape are not very good odds in this particular community.
Her mom (Wrenn Schmidt) is strict within their religion, her father (Jimmi Simpson) is a former musician, and she is set to marry Owen’s brother Ben (Austin Abrams). And when word gets out about the affair, things spin out of control. The kind where her mom has to boot her out of their home for the night. Real mother of the year.
“The Starling Girl” can be overwhelming to me once we get to that rising action of the story, but it’s all well-acted in the notion of youth in these circumstances, and how the results are affected. Scanlen and Pullman both give great performances, because of how they represent their characters’ humanity, that is if their community can say they have any. It shows us how religious people can show their perspectives on what is pure and what is sinful. In this case, it’s represented in a coming-of-age story.
There’s another coming-of-age film called “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” in theaters, but is more about how the girl questions which religion she wants to follow, since she has a Jewish father and a Christian mother, and she finds out her values in puberty. That was a delightful film, whereas “The Starling Girl” has a more serious approach, and I admire the performances and tone. And Parmet uses the right young leading lady to represent what she has to deal with in her community, and what standards she must follow in order to be welcomed in the Kingdom of Heaven.
“The Starling Girl” isn’t always easy, but it does show some strength and brings out some of the best qualities of Scanlan. It’s the kind of movie that represents certain decisions in certain communities, and we can either agree or disagree with them, based on our faith and perspectives. And it’s all drawn with realism and challenges.