If Elgin James had written for MTV’s Skins, the show might’ve lasted more than 10 episodes. His debut feature Little Birds understands the American teenager the way Skins UK understands the English teenager. The film properly captures angst and anger, has superb acting and its cinematography looks like it belongs on a hip kid’s Tumblr (that’s not an insult). In the film, Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises) plays 15-year-old Lily Hobart, and proves herself a worthy leading lady.

The Players:

The Plot:

Lily (Juno Temple) and her best friend Alison (Kay Panabaker) live on the lonely shores of the Salton Sea among trailer parks and deserted streets. One day, while roaming their decaying town, they run into a gang of skater boys visiting from Los Angeles. Lily immediately falls for one of them and convinces Alison to come with her to the city. Once there, they’re pulled into a world of petty crime and their lives are forever changed.

The Good:

  • Acting: Little Birds delivers a dish of solid acting. Temple plays a raging teen girl with lots of energy and emotion. Kay Panabaker is perfect as the conflicted, yet mature best friend. And Kyle Gallner’s cool and subdued skater boy gives this movie its life. Even those who play smaller roles like Leslie Mann, Chris Coy and Kate Bosworth leave their mark. Mann, for once, isn’t playing the bitchy-mom role (mainly due to the fact that this isn’t her husband‘s production). Instead, she’s compassionate trailer-trash that can’t handle her juvenile daughter. It’s great to see her play something other than a suburban housewife. Overall, the acting is the key ingredient that makes this film work. 
  • Cinematography: Female cinematographer Reed Morano has a good eye for wasted youth. This film offers some great shots of the once-thriving Salton Sea city. Through the simple photography, this ghost town becomes it’s own character.
  • Story: While we’ve seen this story before, James plays with a lot of themes that make it real and meaningful. Many of us can relate to the rebellious teen, who feels suffocated by her mother and dreams of adventure. We’ve all been there. Not all of us ran away to Los Angeles to live in abandoned hotels, but we went through that phase of unexplained anger. This movie explores a lot of issues in the way shows like Gossip Girl, 90210 and (surprise) MTV’s Skins never have. One thing worth noting is that this film comes from the producers of Half-Nelson and Blue Valentine, two films that knew how to capture the gripping reality of life. Little Birds feels like the real deal.

The So-So:

  • Predictable Plot: The story is great and all, but most of the movie is predictable. You know where it’s headed and that hurts the message. There’s no element of surprise because you can see the outcome from a mile away.
  • Music: There are times when the music takes over the action and it feels unnecessary. It would have been better to have complete silence than to have some indie singer’s voice playing over the scenes. That’s one cliché that doesn’t work here.


Despite it’s predicable plot and intrusive music, Little Birds thrives as a coming-of-age drama. It’s deeper and more rooted in reality than most. But the biggest reason you should see it is the acting. There are truly great performances here. Temple is the driving force, and everyone else her holds their own.

The Rating: 7.5/10

Little Birds opens in limited theaters August 17th.

Photo Gallery:


Will you be seeing Little Birds this weekend?