The Reel Review


Jem Starling, a 17-year-old girl in a strict Christian fundamentalist community in rural Kentucky, must reconcile her religious devotion with her burgeoning sexuality after the eldest son of her church’s pastor returns home from a mission trip abroad. Eliza Scanlen (Little Women) and Lewis Pullman star in this coming-of-age drama.

Eliza Scanlen in The Starling Girl

In her feature film debut, writer/director Laurel Parmet paints a pretty accurate portrait of conservative, religious fundamentalist America. It’s a place where women dutifully defer to their husbands and intentionally make their own lives and the lives of other women small, believing it somehow makes them more pious. In this world, if adultery occurs – it is solely the female’s fault. Watching Jem’s mom – excellently portrayed by Wrenn Schmidt (Nope, For All Mankind, Outcast) – pass that misguided devotion onto her daughter is frustrating. The “courtship” between Jem, an aspiring dancer, and the pastor’s younger son – awkwardly forced by their parents – is as absurdly ridiculous as it is horrifying.

Eliza Scanlen in The Starling Girl

The intentionally slow pacing does cause the film to drag at times, although its score and cinematography combine to heighten the hypnotic, murky, dreamlike state of Jem’s smothering and restrictive world. Scanlen’s performance is on par with the excellent source material. Parmet’s debut – exposing the hypocrisy of Christian fundamentalists – is as impressive in its realism as it is infuriating to witness.


The Starling Girl writer/director Laurel Parmet

• The daughter of a cinematographer and a costume designer, Los Angeles-native Laurel Parmet says she came up with the idea for The Starling Girl while researching a fundamentalist Christian community in Oklahoma.

• Australian native Eliza Scanlen’s film credits include Old, The Devil All the Time, Little Women, and Babyteeth. She also appeared in the HBO series Sharp Objects. Her next film is M. Night Shymalayan’s Caddo Lake.

Lewis and Bill Pullman

• Lewis Pullman (Top Gun: Maverick, Bad Times at the El Royale, The Strangers: Prey at Night) is the son of actor Bill Pullman. His next film is the James Wan-produced remake of Salem’s Lot.

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