THE STORY – After Lilly suffers a loss, a combative Starling takes nest beside her quiet home. The feisty bird taunts and attacks the grief-stricken Lilly. On her journey to expel the Starling, she rediscovers her will to live and capacity for love.
THE CAST – Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline, Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, Loretta Define & Skyler Gisondo
THE TEAM – Theodore Melfi (Director) & Matt Harris (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 102 Minutes
By Cody Dericks
There’s absolutely a market for films like “The Starling.” The new inspirational and emotional dramedy from Theodore Melfi has enough heart to appeal to audiences looking for a simple, uplifting time at the movies (or at home courtesy of Netflix). Unfortunately, it doesn’t have much going on under the surface, and for most of its runtime, it feels as if the film is simply treading water. It’s a familiar story with repetitive beats, told with little cinematic flair, which might’ve otherwise elevated the film. And worst of all, its stellar cast does little with the feather-light material.
Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack (Chris O’Dowd) are new parents who suffer a terrible loss when their young daughter passes away from SIDS. Jack takes the death particularly hard, checking himself into a mental health facility to cope with his extreme grief. Faced with an empty house, Lilly must strive to make it through each day as best she can. Her routine life is interrupted by a pesky bird that seems hellbent on terrorizing her in her own yard. She and the bird find themselves in a standoff, and Lilly may have more to learn from this bird than she initially thinks.
The premise is relatively simple. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the film does little to take a fresh look at grief. It’s content to have Lilly parade through numerous montages wherein she accomplishes tasks that have some level of emotional significance to her, underscored by a tender pop song. And while it does allow its characters some moments of honest conversation about the tricky, surprising reactions humans can have to loss, none of it is refreshing or surprising. It also doesn’t help that many of the sadder moments for the characters are ironically intercut with overly sunny flashbacks to the couple’s lives from before their personal tragedy. It uses this device with such frequency, and the visions of the past are so ridiculously pleasant that it can’t help but feel comically cruel to these fictional people. Plus, the film’s moments of symbolism are portrayed with glaring obviousness. The visual metaphors on display are so expected, and instead of adding a level of profundity, they simply distract.
The cast is undeniably impressive, however. McCarthy and Melfi previously worked together on “St. Vincent.” In a way, this film is a true repeat of that collaboration, as both movies are overall underwhelming but still feature a decent performance from the actress. She’s a consistently truthful performer and everything about her characterization and reactions to highly internal moments feels genuine. Still, the role is such a dour one, and McCarthy sometimes has trouble finding variance in the many moments of sadness that Lilly experiences. O’Dowd suffers a similar fate. He’s an actor with a natural ability for pathos, but the script requires that he do little else besides slump his way through the movie. It’s frustrating knowing that both actors have such a gift for exploring the wide range of sometimes-conflicting emotions that can exist within people. Still, they’re constricted in this film by one-dimensional writing and characterization.
“The Starling” doesn’t exactly soar in its exploration of everyday people coping with a tragic, senseless loss. It’s a simple story told with little attempt to make it an exceptional character drama. And even though it allows some moments of refreshing honesty, it ultimately keeps the couple at the film’s center in a nest of cliches and worn-down story beats.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd imbue their characters with a real sense of loss, helped by the script’s occasional moments of refreshing honesty.
THE BAD – The screenplay doesn’t exactly bring anything new to this exploration of grief, and its characters are too simple for the talented cast to be able to do much with them besides displaying the most obvious emotions for the roles.