Review: ‘Little Wing’

Brooklynn Prince Takes Flight In Genuinely Heartfelt Coming-Of-Age Film With Brian Cox And Kelly Reilly

A movie set against the backdrop of Portland’s racing pigeon scene hardly sounds like where you’d find an honest, heartfelt teen coming-of-age story. But then Little Wing isn’t just another film conjured up to tug at the heartstrings. It’s based on a New Yorker article penned by Susan Orlean, with the fact-based aspects only matched by the genuine performances by Brian Cox, Kelly Reilly, and star Brooklynn Prince.

Prince, who most will recgonize for her breakout role as Moonee in The Florida Project, has really come into her own as an actress. Having starred in numerous films, including last year’s hit Cocaine Bear, Prince is in nearly every scene and holds her own opposite her veteran co-stars. It also doesn’t hurt that Prince is the same age as 13-year-old protagonist, Kaitlyn, who is struggling with being a teen as well as her parents’ divorce and the prospect of moving away from the only home she’s ever known. Reilly plays Kaitlyn’s mother, Maddie, who works too many hours and doesn’t see enough of her children, including son Matt (Simon Khan) who has gone silent since the divorce. Worse, Maddie can’t keep up with the mortgage payments no matter how many shifts she picks up at work.

Expecting an Iphone for her birthday, Kaitlyn instead is gifted two pigeons from a family friend. She hates the gift, of course, until her best friend, the timid dodgeball magnet Adam (Che Tafari) tells her of Jaan Vari (Cox), who has a racing pigeon worth more than $100K. Kaitlyn, who doesn’t want to move away and start her life over again, decides to steal the bird and sell it to fix her mother’s financial problems.

This might sound utterly ridiculous, but the script by John Gatins (Real Steel, Power Rangers) embraces how crazy a notion this is while staying true to Kaitlyn’s motivations. For a desperate teen prone to rash decisions, it’s not so crazy to see how she could see this as a solution. And it’s just a bird, right? Nobody is actually going to be hurt by this, right?

In contrast to his Logan Roy persona in Succession, Cox brings a lot of warmth to the role of Jaan. While intimidating initially, he’s someone who has seen enough of the world to have a broader perspective. A war veteran in his golden years, he sees in Kaitlyn someone just beginning to discover who she is. Yes, she has this chip on her shoulder and it’s probably like one he used to carry. So when he decides to take her under his wing, no pun intended, it’s to help her see that the future will be a bright one whenever she’s ready to take flight.

Directed by Dean Israelite, whose previous films Project Almanac and Power Rangers carried superhero trends to the coming-of-age genre, Little Wing  succeeds on authenticity and powerful performances. Most of all, Prince is doing some of the best work of her young career in a complicated role. Kaitlyn’s depression sinks to depths that could be tough for some to watch, but I would say that her resilience and fearless attitude are just as much of a pleasure. Reilly is also very good as Kaitlyn’s mother, and I thought it was important how they show the helplessness some parents feel when trying to help their struggling children. But it’s also crucial to show a mother like Maddie who plows through and tries her best, anyway. She never gives up.

Little Wing isn’t breaking the mold, and there are some familiar genre beats which is to be expected. But this movie is a real joy to watch, its heart is in the right place, and it’s worth seeking out on Paramount+ right now.

Little Wing
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
review-little-wingA movie set against the backdrop of Portland's racing pigeon scene hardly sounds like where you'd find an honest, heartfelt teen coming-of-age story. But then Little Wing isn't just another film conjured up to tug at the heartstrings. It's based on a New Yorker...