Watching the trailer for “Netflix’s” THE STARLING—under the direction of of Theodore Melfi’s (Hidden Figures)—it promised to be an insightful look at a couple overcoming a devasting loss and working to rebuild their life and marriage. While the film had raw, heartbreaking grief and moments of strong love and commitment, it also included oddly considered slapstick comedy, over-obvious metaphors, and quasi-therapy.
With a script written by Matt Harris, the film stars Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids, Identity Thief), Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids, This is 40), and Academy Award-winner Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda). It also stars Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, Sklyer Gisondo, Loretta Devine, Laura Harrier, Rosalind Chao, and Kimberly Quinn.
The story centers around Lilly (McCarthy) and her husband Jack (O’Dowd) who are dealing with the death of their baby daughter in their own way. An elementary school teacher, Jack wants to give up on life and ends up in a psychiatric home. Lilly deals with her grief by working—albeit distractedly—at a supermarket and tending the gardens in her family’s farmhouse, where she engages in a battle with a pair of starlings, who have a nest in a tree on her property. When a weekly family therapy session with Jack doesn’t go well, it is suggested that Lilly talk to someone. She’s given a business card for Dr. Larry Fine, a psychologist-turned-veterinarian, who grudgingly offers Lilly self-help quips.
THE STARLING has some strong acting. McCarthy portrayal as a grieving mother is heart-wrenching and honest, as was her commitment to her husband and marriage. O’Dowd’s portrayal of Jack made you feel his sadness and weariness with life. Kline’s acting is always believable, and he has some fine moments with McCarthy. The rest of the cast has so little screen time that it is hard to appreciate their skills.
Unfortunately, the acting was overwhelmed by the film’s drawbacks. It felt as if the filmmakers didn’t know who their audience was and to compensate, they mixed in a variety of bits in a quest to have something for everyone. McCarthy’s slapstick interaction with the CGI bird was distracting and unbelievable. The metaphors of the birds building a nest by taking items that belonged to Lilly’s baby, or fighting to protect their nest, or the idea that Lilly can take care of the bird she injured are rather obvious. Whether treating Lilly’s wound from a bird’s attack, or treating the bird that Lilly injured, Dr. Fine throws in some therapeutic insights into people and birds.
With a runtime of 1 hour, 43 minutes, THE STARLING is rated PG for thematic material, some strong language, and suggestive material. For those who might consider this for a family movie night, there is nothing in this film that a child under 13 would want to watch. Beyond that, the language is quite strong and would be a problem for many viewers.
THE STARLING releases September 17 in select theaters and September 24 on Netflix.