LITTLE WING – Review by Nadine Whitney

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Dean Israelites’s teen drama opens with a quote by Susan Orlean: “Americans move, on average, every five years; pigeons almost never move. Racing pigeons: they have a fixed, profound and nearly incontrovertible sense of home.”

Little Wing is an extension of Orlean’s 2006 New Yorker magazine article. Set in Portland, Oregon it is a coming-of-age story for Kaitlyn McKay (Brooklynn Prince) whose suburban life is unstable. Her parents have divorced, and her Police Detective mom Maddie (Kelly Reilly) has put the family home on the market. She is about to be uprooted.

Despondent and lacking motivation, Kat is close to failing school. She is also in the period of transition where she is no longer a child. At thirteen, things are changing. Her brother, Matt (Simon Kahn) has mentally checked out. Kat’s stubborn, and just a bit punk rock. She’s also more fragile than she lets on.

A surprise gift of two pigeons leads her to a money-making scheme with her best friend Adam (Che Tafari) and famous pigeon trainer, Jaan Vari (Brian Cox). Or, more specifically, a heist. Steal Vari’s Granger pigeon worth over $1200k and save her house.

The heist is both successful and a bust. Kat gets the Granger but leaves Adam behind. In one fell swoop she loses her best friend, gets involved with the Russian Pigeon Mafia (!), and makes a frenemy of Jaan. She also finds herself investing emotionally in her pigeons Charlie Tickets and Juliet and coming to terms with the concept of “home” – a roost or a prison or something else?

Punk rock pigeon girl is confused, messy, and blooming in new ways. Kat is protégé, partner in crime, and the bird seeking her flock. A metaphor which director doesn’t shy away from hammering home.

Little Wing features an excellent performance by Brooklynn Prince who can go toe to toe with Brian Cox and quote Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill like her life depends on it – and for a confused young teen – it kind of does.

Unfortunately, the overwrought script by Jean Gatins works against Prince at almost every turn. She commits to every line and acts through scenes with an earnestness that the writing doesn’t support. Prince is putting in the effort to keep the film from being turgid. The most she can do is raise it to banal with the occasional knock out line read.

Except for Che Tafari whose Adam is unfunny and charmless, no one in the film is giving a bad performance per se. Brian Cox has the grouchy old man with the twinkle in his eye routine down to a fine art. Kelly Reilly is subtle as Maddie, a woman who is weary and worried about both her kids. They just must work within a framework which offers them little.

Little Wing had the potential to punch up the comedy so it could gut punch the drama. Kat’s character is droll, then weepy, then annoyed, then deciding she doesn’t deserve to be around at all. The next minute she’s really into the pigeons because she’s been given some sage advice from Jaan. She imagines smashing the world up. Prince has no trouble conveying any of it, but the audience is often left wondering when the film is going to take off. Perhaps it comes down undefined reason Kat wants to stay in the first place. There is little to suggest she likes her town except some lines about feeling she belongs to Portland.

Little Wing is lumpen where it should be light and too concerned with telling the audience what is happening but not always backing up why. Brooklynn Prince will fly to heights, but Little Wing is a non-starter.

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Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney is a seasoned film critic and scholar. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Nadine contributes regularly to FILMINK, The Curb, and Mr Movies Film Blog. She holds a degree in cinema theory and cultural studies. Her specialty is surrealism in cinema. She is as passionate about cats as she is about film. She is co-chair of the Australian Film Critics Association and a member of FIPRESCI.