‘Starling Girl’ Star Eliza Scanlen Explains How Film Caused Her to Look at Her Own Adolescence Differently (Video)

Sundance 2023: “I didn’t like the feeling of being desire,” Scanlen told TheWrap

There are several features at this year’s Sundance Film Festival exploring young women on the threshold of going from girl to woman. One of them, director Laurel Parmet’s “The Starling Girl,” examines that transition through the lens of a teenager, played by “Little Women’s” Eliza Scanlen, growing up in a Christian fundamentalist community.

Parmet, Scanlen, and costars Lewis Pullman, Jimmi Simpson, Wrenn Schmidt and Austin Abrams  stopped by TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge to discuss the film with TheWrap’s editor-in-chief, Sharon Waxman.

For Parmet, the story compelled her to look at her own upbringing. Scanlen’s character, Jem, falls into a relationship with an older man, played by Lewis Pullman, that mimicked a relationship Parmet had when she was younger. “Sexual shame and seeking approval in men are really these universal experiences for women no matter how you grew up,” Parmet said.

The director said she felt “a lot of guilt” over the relationship and translated that into a highly specific story that worked with similar themes. Parmet did significant research, interviewing women from fundamentalist Christian groups as well as those in similar relationships as Scanlen’s Jem, to give a complete picture.

It’s a sentiment Scanlen herself also empathized with. Though she admitted she didn’t grow up in a religious community as depicted in the film the themes of the film resonated with her. “[I realized] to be a woman was to eventually become an object of desire whether you like it or not,” she said. “Growing up I was very resistant of that myself. I didn’t like the feeling of being desired.”

Scanlen said there’s only power in that concept if one has agency. “Jem does have agency,” Parmet said. “If you focus on just the victimization you’re only telling one part of the story. There are instances where abusive relationships are black-and-white, of course, but there are so many instances, too, where they’re very complicated.”

You can watch the full interview above.

TheWrap’s Portrait and Video Studio at The Music Lodge during the 2023 Sundance Film Festival is sponsored by NFP along with support from Sylvania and HigherDOSE.