Little Wing Soars

Brooklynn Prince. Photo Credit: Alysson Riggs/Paramount+.

There have been plenty of coming-of-age stories throughout history, but Little Wing might be the first to have pigeon racing at its core. The film,based on an article by Susan Orlean with the same name, is focused on Kaitlyn (Brooklynn Prince). She’s your typical angsty teenager who’s reeling from her parents’ divorce. Kaitlyn’s mom (Kelly Reilly, recently seen in The Haunting of Venice) is struggling to afford the mortgage payments on their home. It’s the only house Kaitlyn has ever known, and she’s desperate to find a way to help keep it. After being given a strange gift of two pigeons, Kaitlyn gets the idea to steal a prized racing pigeon worth $100,000 from Jaan (the always steady Brian Cox), a famous pigeon racer. The result of this heist is an unlikely friendship between Jaan and Kaitlyn.

There’s a little indie movie that’s seventeen years old now called Rocket Science. It opens with the narrator saying, “And if you don’t know how farming subsidies could inspire all this commotion, then you don’t know life and there’s nothing to be said about it. Suitcases end marriages and farming subsidies launch cataclysms.” That quote comes to mind when considering the heart of Little Wing. If you don’t understand how pigeon racing could change someone’s entire world view, then you just don’t understand life and what more could possibly be said? We can’t know how the people or things that come into our lives will affect the outcome of our time on earth.

Kaitlyn smiles at a pigeon her arm in Little Wing
Brooklynn Prince in Little Wing. Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/Paramount+.

There’s something exciting about the fact that there’s so much room for uncertainty in life. That there is capacity to surprise us, even when we are in our most jaded teenage years. Little Wing doesn’t begin with an appreciation for pigeons. Kaitlyn thinks her surprise gift is going to be the iPhone she’s been asking for, and she’s annoyed when two pigeons are placed in front of her instead. For Kaitlyn, and likely the audience, pigeons aren’t particularly exciting or awe-inspiring. When you think of majestic animals, pigeons aren’t usually at the top. And yet by the end, Little Wing makes the case for the simplicity of these humble animals.

Pigeons, for some reason science has yet to fully understand, can be trained to return to a single home. They’ve been used for wartime, smuggling, and letter delivery because of their ability to find their way back, even if they’re a thousand miles away. It’s natural that Kaitlyn is drawn to these animals when she’s going through immense turmoil about what it means to have a home and what it would mean if the only home she ever knew was no more. Kaitlyn finds it honorable that they always come home. She can’t say the same thing about her father, and hopes for something steady during her turbulent years.

Jaan stands in a field, arms outstretched, smiling in Little Wing
Bryan Cox in Little Wing. Photo Credit: Alysson Riggs/Paramount+.

After an incredible run on Succession, it’s nice to see Cox relax into a calmer, more grandfatherly role than the ferocious Logan Roy. Jaan has every opportunity to punish Kaitlyn for stealing his prize bird, but he sees how much hurt she’s going through and takes a different approach. He forges a friendship with the young girl and gives her a space in which she is free to feel her emotions. It’s an act of kindness that impacts Kaitlyn more than she realizes. Adults often write off the emotions of children as frivolous and without lasting impact, but young people deserve to have their feelings respected and honored.

Little Wing works best for teens the same age as (or maybe a little younger than) Kaitlyn. Little Wing has the essence of those beloved Disney Channel Original TV movies. It is hopeful, encouraging, and earnest. Never once does the script talk down to its audience or make Kaitlyn seem like she’s in the middle of an after school special. Adults tuning in will likely recognize Prince from her role in The Florida Project as the child living in an Orlando motel. She brings subtlety to her role and adds an undercurrent of lonely melancholy to what could have been a stereotypical angry teen. Her performance is undercut by the overuse of narration that verbalizes all of Kaitlyn’s inner thoughts, even though they’re readily understood from Prince’s performance.

Jaan tells Kaitlyn that during his time in the Vietnam War, he discovered the meaning of life. Of course, as a lost teenager, the idea that someone has the roadmap to life is reassuring. That there is meaning and purpose somewhere in the universe and someone has found a way to harness it. Little Wing celebrates the unlikely things that steer us through the choppy, uncertain winds of life. Sometimes you will soar, other times you’ll hit turbulence, but you’ll always find your way home.

Written by Tina Kakadelis

News Editor for Film Obsessive. Movie and pop culture writer. Seen a lot of movies, got a lot of opinions. Let's get Carey Mulligan her Oscar.

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