Plot via Sundance:
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.
Films about strict religious communities, unless they’re done by former adherents, tend to take the negative. They’re horror films for most in the Hollywood community.
The Starling Girl isn’t really the exception but it does try to break the mold by focusing on the child point of view. The disappointments come in drips,. The restraining of identity is the thing that becomes evil- the refusal to allow joy and self awareness.
For Jem Starling (Eliza Scanlen) it’s her dancing that makes her feel she belongs. Everything else will meet with adult disapproval. Seeking of attention especially, tears and dispersion, reaching out and rejection are the film’s cycling moments and themes. Repression of one’s sexuality is its cornerstone.
When Jem reaches out to a youth pastor (Lewis Pullman) who seems to understand her and want to reach back and connect with her is when the trouble begins.
Yes, he is a self justifying sexual predator, but writer and director Laurel Parmet, focuses on the daddy issues which leads Jem to seek a seemingly better imperfect father for the one she has.
Parmet shows how shame of their bodies is passed on from mother to daughter, both inside and in their every movement. How an an acceptance of misogyny gets attached as a moral core. How they are unable to breed that unhappiness away.
It gets a 3.5 out of 5, a B+.
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
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