“The Starling Girl”


Metacritic (7/10), Letterboxd (3.5/5), Imdb.com (7/10), TMDB.com (3.5/5)

What’s required to attain acceptance from others? That’s a tricky question, especially for those who are going through the coming of age process. It can be even more confounding for those who are part of a community that demands rigid conformity on an array of fronts. So it is for 17-year-old Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen), a questioning young woman from a small Kentucky fundamentalist community. She wants to fit in, but she also endeavors to know herself, a quest that carries with it some puzzling yet innate contradictions, many of which are brought front and center when she begins to develop feelings for her married youth pastor (Lewis Pullman), a connection based on emotions that turn out to be mutual. But what is Jem to do – follow her heart or squelch the burgeoning passions surfacing within her, both romantically and in her other secular interests? That’s the story that plays out as she attempts to get in touch with her inner being. However, is she seeking to let her true self emerge, or is she succumbing to the wicked manipulations of Satan, as her family and fellow parishioners try to convince her? Independent Spirit Award-nominated writer-director Laurel Parmet’s debut feature deftly handles these themes, even if they seem a little predictable, familiar and stretched out at times. The picture’s surprisingly inconsistent cinematography sometimes hampers the flow of the narrative, too, with some scenes that are beautifully shot and others that are needlessly and almost indecipherably dark (atmosphere is one thing, but the patent mishandling of this element is something else entirely). Nevertheless, these shortcomings are aptly covered by the fine performances of the film’s stellar cast, especially Scanlan, Pullman, and Jimmi Simpson and Wrenn Schmidt as Jem’s dysfunctional parents. “The Starling Girl” may not be groundbreakingly original, but it reminds us of the importance of being ourselves, no matter what that might entail – and the cost that can come from failing to follow our hearts.