Seventeen-year-old Jem Starling struggles to define her place within her fundamentalist Christian community in rural Kentucky. Even her greatest joy, the church dance group, is tempered by worry that her love of dance is actually sinful — and she’s caught between a burgeoning awareness of her own sexuality and an instinctive resistance to her mom’s insistence that the time has come to begin courting. She finds respite from her confusion in the encouragement of her youth pastor, Owen, who is likewise drawn to the blossoming Jem’s attention.
Writer-director Laurel Parmet delicately balances the intoxication and inappropriateness of the pair’s transgressive connection in this morally complex, sensitive coming-of-age story. A stellar Eliza Scanlen beautifully conveys the impetuous, conflicted Jem’s tentative journey toward understanding her growingly complicated ideas about herself, her family, and the faith that has always guided her life. THE STARLING GIRL centers on Jem’s agency as Scanlen and a gruffly charismatic Lewis Pullman as Owen generate a palpable chemistry, even as the film steadily reaffirms Jem’s youthful naïveté and Owen’s position of authority.
“A complex, often disturbing portrait of the way women have been pressured to shrink themselves and pass on that shame to their daughters. Somewhere inside them they know it breeds unhappiness, but for them it’s a small price to pay for admittance into the kingdom of Heaven.” —Jourdain Searles, Hollywood Reporter “Parmet’s strong script and surety behind the camera navigates the audience through this complicated story of religion and sexuality, patriarchy and power, brought to eerily accurate life by the ensemble of excellent actors." —Katie Walsh, The Wrap “Creating a coming-of-age film that’s at all interesting — let alone revolutionary or life-changing — is a difficult task. Few people manage to tread old ground without slipping and falling, but luckily, one of those people is writer-director Laurel Parmet…. She possesses a maturity and grace that will, hopefully, take her far beyond what this film has already accomplished, and the intimacy of THE STARLING GIRL is both intriguing and painful, a version of CALL ME BY MY NAME for the working-class girls that hide scars under the clothing they’ve scraped pennies together to afford.” —Maggie Boccella, Collider