Written with tenderness, directed with impactful execution and acted with such burning conviction, Girl is sincere in its portrayal of overprotective parenthood.

Adura Onashile’s debut feature, Girl, which centers on the dynamic of an overprotective mother and a curious daughter, is a delicate tale of trauma and coming of age. With such heavy themes, it’s impressive that a first-time director handles them with such dedicated passion and precision. But she does it with such grace and intimacy that it becomes easy to empathize with these characters.

Grace (Déborah Lukumuena) and Ama (Le’Shantey Bonsu) have a deep bond as in many mother-daughter relationships. To protect them from outsiders, the cautious and anxious Grace protects Ama by establishing and enforcing strict rules. As they begin a new life in Glasgow, Scotland, things begin to change. Grace’s anxiety over a past trauma seems to get the best of her, while Ama’s puberty and growing curiosity interest her in the world around her. Soon Ama discovers that the origin stories her mother has been telling her for years are fairy tales. Ultimately, this realization begins to shatter both of their worlds and change their relationship forever.


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As Grace’s safety net begins to unravel around her, overwhelming feelings of debilitating anxiety and fear overwhelm her. Visually, Onashile represents these moments through ambiguous flashbacks, while Lukumuena counts rewinding to reality. A little slow burning, Girl often teeters on a thin line of impressionistic storytelling. The flashbacks are superficial and rarely tell anything about Grace’s trauma beyond the fact that it exists. Additionally, Ama’s blossoming friendship with her neighbor Fiona takes a while to get going.

But this narrative structure only makes the film that much more impactful. When Grace finally comes to learn about Ama’s worldly interests, it sets in motion harsher punishments and restrictions, leading to Ama feeling like a prisoner in her own existence. It takes a while for the script to develop to these points of realization, as does Grace. Nevertheless, this carefully crafted story of healing is handled with compassion every step of the way.

Girl - Déborah Lukumuena, Le'Shantey Bonsu
Le’Shantey Bonsu and Déborah Lukumuena in Girl

Nashile’s poignant film elegantly captures the fear of growing up with relentless uncertainty ahead. Ama in particular learns about things like menstruation and using deodorant from her friend Fiona instead of her own mother. If anything, these moments serve as a good reminder to parents to create safe spaces for their children to confide in them. And as much as it celebrates Ama being able to learn at a pace appropriate for her age, it also provides great insight into the dangers of parents not assuming the role of educator in their children’s lives. Specifically, when safe learning opportunities are removed in the household, resentment sets in and children will seek information elsewhere.

The emotionally poignant Girl, written with tenderness, directed with impactful execution and acted with such burning conviction, is sincere in how it portrays overprotective parenting. With well-timed flashbacks to visualize trauma and how it affects the upbringing of a child, the story feels like a personal experience that one can easily relate to even without having the same experiences. Nashile’s film takes on a tender spirit, only enhanced through her powerful direction. A delicate and beautiful script mother-daughter relationship saturated with care and precision, Girl is one of the festival’s most triumphant debuts.

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Girl premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival on January 22. The film is 87 minutes long and has not yet been rated.

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