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Little Birds

The first feature from gang member/punk rocker/semi-notorious homeless-kid-turned-Sundance-protégé Elgin James, this polished but anemic indie spends its first minute in the bathtub with Lily (Juno Temple), as she fantasizes about drowning, fingers her cutting scars, ponders how "everything's dead" where she lives, and screams underwater at her mother (Leslie Mann). So much for subtle character development. The 15-year-old heroine, with a pinched face and nary a brain in her head, is something of a mannered irritant, but she's thankfully paired with the more thoughtful Aly (Kay Panabaker), and the two spend most of the film wandering their rural wasteland beside the Salton Sea while griping and slumming, until a trio of indigent L.A. boys lure them to the coast for lowball crime and sexual near-tragedy. The dialogue is as stock as the characters, and James's visual palette never surpasses the adequate. Nothing, in fact, startles you out of the movie's inarticulate, reflexive, wannabe-generational indie slump until the late appearance of the redoubtable J.R. Bourne as an unhinged shakedown target gone berserk, tearing Little Birds open like hot bread. Apparently finished filming before James did a year's prison time in March 2011 for lowball extortion himself, Little Birds resonates as a résumé builder more than a manifestation of street cred.

 
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