Film review: The starling | Pittsburgh Magazine

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PHOTO BY HOPPER STONE / NETFLIX

I want to like “The Starling”. I really do. But that doesn’t make it easy for me.

It’s a film filled with sentimentality, topped with cloying emotions, like a platter of nachos with endless toppings and no visible chips. Yet it is also a film that recognizes and respects the challenges of mental health and grief; where most films on such issues treat mental illness like any other narrative hurdle, “The Starling” recognizes how deep and difficult these questions are.

It makes me want to love. I also like the serious cast, directed by Melissa McCarthy with Kevin Kline and Chris O’Dowd; the three sympathetic stars offer a trio of heartbreaking performances.

On the flip side, the central character is an unconvincing CGI bird – an innocent digital bird meant to replace half a dozen metaphors.

This titular bird makes it very, very hard to love this movie.

McCarthy and Kline play the grieving couple Lilly and Jack Maynard. Their baby died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome a year ago; Lilly barely clings to her supermarket job while Jack stays in a mental health facility. The group sessions make it clear that neither is progressing, so Lilly is referred to a therapist, Larry (Kline).

There was confusion; Larry changed careers and became a veterinarian years ago. (Nominally, this movie is a comedy – I think so.) Still, he helps Lilly, under the guise of helping her with a bird problem: A territorial starling is preventing her from repairing her garden, one of the large visuals of the film of internal / external struggle.

In captivating scenes of tentative honesty – Lilly slowly confessing her anger at Larry, Jack acknowledging her lack of hope in his doctors – “The Starling” is the movie he wants to be, an honest, humorous look at depression and loss. Writer Matt Harris (who is typically an executive producer on pseudo-reality shows like “Ridiculousness,” among others) knows what he’s trying to say and it has value.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the restraint to say anything subtly or gracefully, emphasizing and reaffirming his points at one point. In a particularly dark moment, Larry explains exactly how the title bird serves as a metaphor for Lilly’s broken family.

Really: Poor Kevin Kline, who we really should see more often and under better circumstances, is forced to patiently explain the point of the film.

Lilly tries to cut the blatant moment: “Real subtle stuff, Larry.” This recognition does not help.

So: is it barely functioning, or is “The Starling” crumbling under the weight of its own heavy hand? It’s right on the line for me.

In fact, you know what? This CGI bird is really bad. I say pass.

My rating: 5/10

“The Starling” is now streaming on Netflix.


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