The Starling Girl Review-An Eye-Opening Look at Fundamentalist Christians (Sundance 2023)

In some places in this country there exist fanatical Christian groups that have their entire lives revolve around religion or doing everything for the sake of God. These groups of people are totally cut off from reality because of their beliefs. It makes them come across as not a real part of the rest of society. I tend to agree with this assessment. God and religion can cloud people’s judgments and especially young people like teenagers.

Jem (Eliza Scanlin) is a seventeen-year-old girl in Kentucky. She is part of a fundamentalist Christian church and is starting to come into her own as a young woman. She’s also a part of the congregation’s dance team and is starting to develop feelings for the youth pastor Owen (Lewis Pullman, Top Gun: Maverick) He has the same feelings for her but he’s already married to another woman. This goes against their religion and her mother who’s a very strict Christian and his father who’s the church after. Is this sin or true love that is the question?

As the years have gone by more and more of these types of stories have come out of the woodwork. Whether they’re true or not doesn’t really matter. The fact that these types of groups exist should be disturbing. This type of mantra sold by this religious church is cancerous to our youth and society as a whole. I think people need to see this film to see how crazy these groups and their belief system truly is. The writer/director Laurel Parmet captured this perfectly.

This is the first time I’ve seen Eliza Scanlin in any film or television series. She had me glued to the screen the entire time I was watching the movie. Her infectious energy and youthful exuberance were a pleasant surprise. She is a revelation in this film. Her performance was terrific and I can’t wait to see more of her in the near future. She’s got the it factor for a new young actress.

The rest of the cast including Lewis Pullman, as this older man who doesn’t say no to his relationship with this teenager, Wrenn Schmidt as an overprotective mother, Jimmi Simpson as the father who doesn’t see what’s truly going on because he’s dealing with his own issues. The pastor is played by Kyle Secor and he’s good as this man who believes his teachings are right and that sexual inhibitions or certain intimacies are wrong in God’s eyes. Even though his own son is at the forefront of what’s going on. 

This story is one that was a little hard for me to watch because I dealt with fantastical Christians in my past. I was having a rough time and I fell back into my catholic religion for solace. It didn’t work out too well for me because these people were very pushy and tried to take over my life. So I understood what this young girl was going through. She wanted to go get own way. If that meant falling in love with an older man, so be it. It’s her decision and her mother and the pastor should have let her be her own woman. 

The Starling Girl is a film that has two distinct messages. A story of sexual freedom for a young teenager and a fundamentalist Christian group who tries to take over everybody’s lives. The writer/director Laurel Parmet captured both sides of this story. I was very impressed by the way she told the story and kept the ending a surprise. The cast is solid and the look of the movie is very good as well. 

3 1/2 stars 

Dan Skip Allen

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