In Laurel Parmet’s directorial debut, The Starling Girl, Eliza Scanlen plays Jem, a seventeen-year-old dancer growing up in an extremely religious community. The parishioners judge the way the slight outline of her bra shows through her leotard. They push her towards marriage and courting and away from secular music. Her parents (Wrenn Schmidt and Jimmi Simpson) pile on the pressure and teeter between absent, overbearing, and kind. When the pastor’s son (Lewis Pullman) returns from a mission abroad to become the Youth Group Leader, Jem starts to question her faith, family, and sexuality.
While this set up may seem like an opportunity for Parmet to criticize extreme religious ideas, she doesn’t do that. “It was really important to me not to condescend to or mock the communities that we portray. I just wasn’t interested in that,” she tells me. “It was much more about getting audiences to feel for these characters and identify with them.”
As we talked over Zoom, we discussed working with Eliza Scanlen, the nature of her character’s hunger and Austin Abrams transformation into the ultimate dweeb.
Check out my interview with Laurel Parmet below. The Starling Girl is in theaters now.