Title: Little Birds
Director: Elgin James
Children raised in economically depressed areas with emotionally distant parents often search for ways to get attention, and often become rebellious in order to become noticed. The two teenage girls in the new drama ‘Little Birds,’ Lily and Alison, have bonded over losing a parent and living with their other, often neglectful parent, but have taken different approaches to dealing with their grief and pain. The film fearlessly shows the stark difference in Lily’s careless, rebellious streak and Alison’s pure, innocent intentions, but they have learned to accept the other as they are in order to help each other survive.
‘Little Birds’ follows 15-year-old Lily (played by Juno Temple) and her best friend Alison (portrayed by Kay Panabaker), as their families struggle financially on the shores of the Salton Sea in California. What was once an oasis for the wealthy and famous has become a near ghost town with rundown trailer parks and decaying streets. Lily feels claustrophobic and rebellious, anxious to leave her home and manic, single mother Margaret (played by Leslie Mann). She wants to experience something more exciting than her her visits with her washed up Aunt Bonnie (portrayed by Kate Bosworth) and young cousin.
After meeting a few visiting street kids, the girls’ bond is tested when Lily convinces Alison to steal a truck from Hogan (played by Neal McDonough), whose ranch she works on. The girls search for the boys they just met, including Jesse MacNamara (portrayed by Kyle Gallner), who Lily is romantically interested in. Lily is drawn to the boys’ freedom and lifestyle, and is determined to stay and make it work, despite their scams and petty crime. As Alison becomes ready to return home, Lily becomes bait in the boys’ new plan; they’ll lure men with money they meet over the Internet to the abandoned motel they’re living in to steal from. Things quickly escalate to a life-changing moment, when Lily must decide how far she will go to grow up and Alison must figure out how far she would go to protect her friend.
Elgin James, who made his feature film writing and directorial debut with ‘Little Birds,’ daringly drew on his own life experiences in the foster care system as a child, who became homeless and a gang member as a teen, to create an emotional, compelling story of teenage rebellion. While both Lily and Alison have only truly known what it was like living on the verge of poverty in Salton Sea with parents who couldn’t fully emotionally or physically provide for them, the girls surprisingly acted startlingly different when it came to bettering their situations.
Temple sincerely portrayed Lily as becoming resentful and angry that she couldn’t have the finer things in life that she longed for or parents who loved her enough to care about her needs. Despite all the pain she’s experienced in her life after her father committed suicide and her mother subsequently putting random men before her, Lily still blindly put her faith in Jesse and his friends. While she knew it was rare for her to find someone who cared for her as much as Alison did, Lily was rebellious enough to readily end their friendship just to gain approval from a boy.
Panabaker, contrastingly, played Alison as still being truly innocent and naive and believed in the goodness of other. She was unsure how to handle her new surroundings and the cruel nature of the people she met when she traveled to Los Angeles with Lily. She clearly made self sacrifices, like leaving her father and stealing the truck from Hogan, who trusted her, to gain Lily’s continued approval. Alison fear that after Lily met Jesse, she would lose interest in their friendship. While Alison also seemed unsure about, and uneasy with, the sexual experience and scams Lily was so eager to engage in in order to please Jesse, she was still willing to do anything to protect her friend from harm and to make her happy.
James courageously drew on his own life experiences as a troubled, homeless and rebellious teen to create debate over the ethical and emotional dilemmas adolescents routinely encounter everyday. While Lily and Alison both came from broken homes with single parents who struggled to emotionally and physically care and provide for them, the two girls’ differing personalities showed the immense differences such a lifestyle can have on a person. Temple and Panabaker both expressively connected to their characters, showing the different ways people choose to cope with damaging psychological trauma. Lily chose to be rebellious, angry and upset that she had a disconnected family, while Alison chose to accept the realities of her situation and tried to make it better. While the two seem unlikely friends, they both actually naturally balanced each other out in their own respective ways.
Written by: Karen Benardello