Little Birds



Teen girls seek respite from bleak life in mature drama.
  • Review Date: August 29, 2012
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2012
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Friendship is the key theme of the movie. Lily and Alison have been best friends all their lives, but their bond is tested when they run away together and Lily becomes involved with a gang member. They say hurtful things to each other and seem to be moving in different directions, but when one of them really needs help, the other is there for her.

Positive role models

The teen girls at the center of Little Birds are growing up and seeking some kind of escape from their bleak existence, so they run away to L.A. and get involved with a violent skateboard gang. The gang members drink most afternoons, take and sell drugs, assault people with little provocation, and commit brutal crimes without demonstrating any kind of remorse.


Several brutal assaults, including a gang member beating a man's head with a skateboard, another man who's mugged at gunpoint, and a violent brawl that leaves several people bloody and unconscious. An underage teen girl is nearly raped by a violent adult; she's saved when he's shot by another teen girl. Other teens threaten each other, including pushing, shoving, using intimidating language, and spitting. The violence is very realistic, and people genuinely seen dazed and injured afterward.


A woman brings a guy home from a bar. A teen girl is shown topless while bathing and later takes off her top again while kissing a boy. They discuss going further but are interrupted. The girl pretends to be an underage prostitute to attract men who are then assaulted by her gang-member boyfriend.


Near-constant swearing from all of the teen characters and several of the adults, including "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," "ass," "t-tties," "c--t," and lots of other expletives. Profanity punctuates the conversation in nearly every scene.


A man who's being mugged complains when he's asked to hand over his BlackBerry phone.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Teens frequently drink beer and get drunk while hanging out. Some of them smoke cigarettes. Adults get drunk in the midafternoon, and hang out in bars drinking and smoking. Some characters smoke pot and talk about being high. One character sometimes deals drugs.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Little Birds, an affecting drama about two teenage girls seeking a respite from their bleak lives, is both moving and disturbing. They steal a truck and run away to Los Angeles, where they get involved with a violent skateboard gang; one is excited, while the other is apprehensive and wants to go home, creating a conflict that threatens their bond. There's non-stop swearing ("f--k," "s--t," and much more) and some realistic, graphic beatings that leave the victims bloody and unconscious, as well as a horrific sexual assault. Teens drink, smoke cigarettes, and take drugs; there are also a couple of scenes of one of the girls topless.

Kids say

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What's the story?

Lily (Juno Temple) and Alison (Kay Panabaker) are each other's best friends and ballasts in a bleak town on the barren Salton Sea. Their families are sad and troubled, their lives scripted for dreariness. Then Lily meets a boy from Los Angeles, a brief flirtation that has her pining for togetherness. Alison helps Lily get to L.A., where they meet up with her beau and his skater posse. But life away from the Salton Sea is bleak, too, and Alison grows wary. But Lily wants to stay. How do they navigate these new waters?

Is it any good?


LITTLE BIRDS is achingly beautiful and haunting, a tone poem of bleakness that paints a realistic picture of teenage girls yearning for a way out of their dismal days. Panabaker is remarkable, and Temple even more so, never once hitting a wrong note; their characters brim with angst, fear, hope, rage, and excitement, sometimes all at once. First-time writer-director Elgin James infuses his own real-life gang background into a story that's both disheartening for its matter-of-fact violence and uplifting for its portrayal of two friends who share such similar lives and yet are headed for disparate directions.

And yet both of the main characters, as well as their families (Leslie Mann has a fine turn as Lily's mother, who wants to do right but doesn't always know how), are portrayed with humanity and breathtaking honesty. The film is strongest in its grittier moments and when that grit means tenderness, even if it does give some characters the short shrift. Not that it dilutes the movie's power much. Little Birds soars toward the horizon, and it nearly gets there.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how teen gang members are portrayed in Little Birds -- as violent, homeless ruffians with no caretakers and little future. Does this seem realistic?

  • How does the movie depict drinking, smoking, and drug use? Are there believable consequences?

  • Talk about Lily's and Alison's friendship. Why does their bond start to fray? What keeps them together?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 29, 2012
DVD release date:December 31, 2012
Cast:Juno Temple, Kate Bosworth, Kay Panabaker, Leslie Mann
Director:Elgin James
Studio:Millennium Entertainment
Run time:94 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:pervasive language, some violence including a sexual assault, sexuality/nudity, drug and alcohol use - all involving teens

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Adult Written bywonder dove January 26, 2013

A gem! For mature audiences!

I found this movie to be quite good! I love the realism of it because it brings back a few memories when I was a young teen and some situations felt familiar. It centers around two teen girls who seem completely opposite, but are best friends. Lily(Juno Temple) is bold and curious with a wild side and Alison (Kay Panabaker) is quiet, shy and always trying to do what's right. Growing up bored in a town where not much happens, the two long for something more. When Lily meets a skater boy (Kyle Gallner) and his friends who are from LA, she's instantly attracted to him. Alison however, is hesitant but finally comes around. When the boys head back to LA, Lily so desperately wants to follow so Alison decides to pick her up and go on a little road trip where they meet up with the skater gang once again and spend their nights in a run down abandoned shack. Their crazy little adventures start to spiral and while Lily seems to be having fun, Alison feels uncomfortable - like she's in the wrong place at the wrong time and needs to get out fast. It's a very emotional kind of film, it gives hints on what kind of things are going through teens minds. There is a lot of strong violence - pushing, shouting, gun use, assaults, injuries, muggings...etc. Sexual content is heavy though there is no actual sex, there is nudity twice (bare breasts), two teens kiss and almost go all the way, a girl acts as a prostitute to prank predators online and then gun them down later (also a near-rape scene). Language is strong also. There is some drinking & smoking, you see one of the skater guys getting high, also a brief discussion about drugs. NOT for kids!! 17+ is recommended.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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