17 is a hard enough age to get through, let alone when you’re experiencing your sexual awakening in a rural fundamentalist Christian town in Kentucky. Unfortunately this is the situation our film’s protagonist Jim Starling (Eliza Scanlen) finds herself thrust into and that’s just the beginning. In the most formative years of her young adult life, Eliza seems to have nobody to turn to that can relate to the changes she is now experiencing. Her dad, while loving and doting, would rather spend his time drowning his depression in alcohol than talking to his daughter. Eliza’s mother, an emotionally closed-off super fundamentalist is not much better in that aspect.
Everything changes when the bad boy older son of Eliza’s church pastor returns from his mission in Puerto Rico. His non-conformist ways and black sheep vibe instantly set a fire off within Eliza, and his presence soon tests Eliza’s relationship with herself, her family, and with God.
The Starling Girl seems torn straight from the pages of a Judy Blume novel. Its subtle dissection of gender roles and female sexuality is a welcomed addition to ever-growing conversation, and could provide ample material to fill a semester of any gender studies class. It is a film that reminds us of what it means to be young and reckless, and what it was like to do things without fully knowing or caring about the consequences of our actions. It is a complex dialogue about the roles of men and women in relationships, and how age gaps and power dynamics can shift and distort the lines of what is and what is not acceptable.
The delicate actor-director relation in this film is what truly makes it stand out. First-time director Laurel Parmet has a sixth sense when it comes to using her camera to capture the unspoken words that fall between each line of dialogue. Her amazing cast, including Eliza Scanlen (Little Women) and Austin Abrams (Euphoria and Dash & Lily) lay their hearts bare with nuanced performances that will stick with you well after you’ve moved on to the next thing.
The Starling Girl is just the kind of film that gets directors their second and third shot at filming a feature. It is a film that will no doubt place director Laurel Parmet on the list of young directors to watch, and the type of debut that could see her back at Sundance sooner rather than later. Keep an eye on this one, for this film, its director, and its cast are going to go places.