The Starling Girl (2023) – Review/ Summary (with Spoilers)

Coming of age in a religious setting is hard, for what coastal cities may see as natural impulses, a conservative community in the Midwest would call those sin.

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Eliza Scanlen as Jem in The Starling Girl (2023)

Coming of age in a religious setting is hard, for what coastal cities may see as natural impulses, a conservative community in the Midwest would call those sin.

Director(s) Laurel Parmet
Screenplay By Laurel Parmet
Based On N/A
Date Released (Film Festival – Sundance Film Festival) 1/24/2023
Genre(s) Drama, Young Adult, Religious
Duration 116 Minutes
Content Rating Not Rated
Noted Cast
Jem Eliza Scanlen
Owen Lewis Pullman

This content contains pertinent spoilers. Also, images and text in this post may contain affiliate links which, if a purchase is made from those sites, we may earn money or products from the company.

Film Summary

Jem is a 17-year-old girl in a Kentucky town who loves nothing more than praise dancing. It is perhaps the one way she can feel free and express herself in front of people. Yes, with her skirting some form of criticism depending on whether her bra shows or if someone sees her as vain. But she has come of age. There is a desire to be seen, get noticed, and do something which could be a bit risqué.

But, she likely didn’t dream of is the risk she’d take on when she got close to the youth pastor, Owen, the older brother of the boy her parents are trying to arrange for her to get married.

Things To Note

Why Is “The Starling Girl” Rated Not Rated

  • Dialog: No notable amount of cursing
  • Violence: Minor violence
  • Sexual Content: Depiction of masturbation, non-graphic sex scenes, and implied nudity
  • Miscellaneous: Drinking and vomiting

Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member, and character descriptions may contain what can be considered spoilers.


17-year-old Jem is introduced as a good girl, someone who loves praise dancing, and is at that age where parents in the area seem to arrange for their child to court with the purpose of marriage. Jem isn’t necessarily for this. The boy she is attached to she barely knows, and while she doesn’t speak of dreams or autonomy, she seems to want to have every last bit of youth she can enjoy before the reckoning of adulthood becomes unavoidable.

  • You May Also Know The Actor From Being: Amma Crellin in “Sharp Objects,” an unknown role in the upcoming “Caddo” with Dylan O’Brien, and Young Eleanor Roosevelt in “The First Lady.”


Owen is a youth pastor, son to the local head pastor, who has just returned from Puerto Rico where he loved their pursuit of ministry and working on the farm they had there. This makes his return to Kentucky, where he is unhappy with his life and the traditions which limit changes and experimentation, a miserable experience. At least outside of the reprieve Jem sometimes offers.

  • You May Also Know The Actor From Being: Lt. Robert ‘Bob’ Floyd in “Top Gun: Maverick,” John Kennedy Toole in the upcoming “Thelma,” and Todd Stevens in the upcoming “The Line” with Halle Bailey and Angus Cloud.


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Our Rating: Mixed (Divisive)


Trying To Reconcile Things Which Bring You Joy And Pleasure With What Is Of God

Faith is a force that guides you, protects you, and can give you purpose and a sense of community. Because of that, it can become a strong weapon against those who are foes, or a strong weapon for those who want to control you. In “The Starling Girl,” we’re reminded of how it can be used as a tool to control, without an outright pursuit of damning religion or those who gain influence with it.

But, while many try to control Jem, on her journey, she seeks out ways to assert authority over her life. Be it by taking over the dance troupe or her pursuit to understand what is of God and what is of ego. Yes, men, and her mom, try to make circumstantial things a matter of God’s will, but what is constantly pushed is, if man has free will and exhibits it, at what point is it not of God?

Is it when it becomes an addiction that distracts you from faith and family? Is it when pursuing your own joy knowingly hurts someone whose pain could have been avoided? Jem goes back and forth, and while “The Starling Girl” doesn’t necessarily create a deep journey and is more so about a girl enjoying the pleasures of the flesh and enjoying the chaos something forbidden gives her, you can dive a bit deeper.

On The Fence

Wishing For More

“The Starling Girl” isn’t the kind of film that lingers in your thoughts or memories. It benefits from not being yet another coastal film or one which seeks to damn religion. However, it isn’t the most engaging film. It neither pushes you to question, to root, or feel entertained by anyone. Owen and Jem’s pursuit of something illicit doesn’t breed delicious scandal. It is just two people trying to escape the fate their community pushed onto them. And with the members of their community mostly being nameless and far from noteworthy, while those familiar with religious communities can imagine the pressure they are under that isn’t on screen. It doesn’t mirror the conflicts of faith and love, minus the LGBT+ themes, as we see in “You Can Live Forever.”

Also, the leads, Jem and Owen, aren’t that interesting. Jem is just a 17-year-old who likes to dance and enjoys a cute boy’s attention. Owen is a youth pastor, the son of the long-time pastor of the area, but even with him being eccentric in some ways, especially after learning about how prayer and service is done in Puerto Rico, he is a dull watch as well. And though you’d think the scandal of their affair would lead to some cheap “sex sells” or even Jem’s coming of age being of interest, it doesn’t.

You pretty much are given the burden of digging deeper and making this more than it is.

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Eliza Scanlen as Jem in The Starling Girl (2023)
The Starling Girl (2023) – Review/ Summary (with Spoilers)
In some ways, “The Starling Girls” feels like a completed outline with a beginning, middle, and end, with various points and developments that show some consideration to presenting you a journey and a story. Unfortunately, no one's journey or story really packs a punch, and you’re left to damn near create your own fan fiction to liven up what you are given.
Trying To Reconcile Things Which Bring You Joy And Pleasure With What Is Of God
Wishing For More

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