The Starling

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Melissa McCarthy in The Starling.
Melissa McCarthy in The Starling.
Photo: Netflix


The Starling




2/5 Stars


A married couple, the Maynards, suffers after the death of their baby daughter to SIDS. The husband, Jack, is in a residential mental hospital while the wife, Lilly, remains at home to deal with her feelings alone.


The Starling feels like a meal with all the right ingredients that just does not taste as well as it should. With an excellent cast and a talented crew, the message behind it does not quite land the way it intended.

It tells the story of grief as depicted by a couple whose baby daughter died of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). They grieve in different ways; Jack (Chris O'Dowd), who tried to commit suicide after the death, is admitted to a mental health facility. While Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) stays at home, working full-time as an assistant manager at a grocery store and tries to maintain their property. Once a week, Lilly visits Jack to attend a family therapy session. While she is there, a counsellor suggests that she sees someone herself to deal with her own grief. After giving away all her daughter's belongings, she contacts the therapist, only to discover that Dr Larry Fine (Kevin Kline) is now practising as a veterinarian. After Lilly has an incident with a starling in her garden, she returns to Dr Fine, and the two find an unorthodox way to work through her problems.

The character of Lilly is an example of what happens when one prioritises the grief of someone else over themselves. And this is an important theme, but what I struggled with is that the character itself didn't have any nuance. She didn't feel like a real person, but like a character that someone wrote to teach the audience a lesson. While Melissa McCarthy has once again showed her talent for drama, which got her an Academy Award nomination for Can You Ever Forgive Me?, the part itself did not provide enough substance for her to give her a lot to work with. Will her scenes make you emotional? Probably. But it was designed that way, with a sensibility towards melodrama similar to that you would find in a Hallmark Channel movie. But because of McCarthy's talent, she is able to depict the quiet moments of Lilly's grief alongside the comedic scenes with Dr Fine and provides a good balance for the film.

We also get to see the story from Jack's perspective. Jack is someone who has struggled with depression his whole life, and the death of his daughter is just the straw that broke the camel's back. He also resents what he sees as Lilly's strength when he can't hold it together, even though Lilly is struggling in her own way. Even though we can see how this experience might be extremely difficult for someone who is already predisposed to depression, his character is not very likeable. Perhaps it is because we see both sides of the story, but he just comes across as selfish and unsupportive to his wife. There is a reckoning about this towards the end of the film, but it just feels like too little too late and that they did not do a good enough job to make Jack more sympathetic.

Kevin Kline does a great job as Dr Larry Fine, but once again, the character seems to fall flat. He has many comedic scenes in the film, but there is still a sense of melancholy around the character, which I wish we got to explore more. He says he got out of psychology because he didn't feel as if he was really helping anyone, but you see that he still has a passion for it in his interactions with Lilly.

The film also has an impressive supporting cast, with Timothy Olyphant playing Lilly's boss and Laura Harrier and Skyler Gisondo playing fellow employees at the grocery store. Hamilton's Daveed Diggs plays an employee at the mental health facility, and Loretta Devine plays another patient. But all these roles seem more like glorified cameos than actual supporting characters.

But perhaps the most difficult part of the film is the starling itself. The CGI bird serves as a heavy-handed metaphor for Lilly's grief that she tries to avoid but keeps attacking her. The bird, itself, isn't a character but a plot point, and it fails to bring about the emotion it is trying to evoke. Even when Lilly was trying to save the bird from dying, it was incredibly obvious that this was a tool so that Dr Fine could impart some much-needed wisdom using metaphors involving starlings.

The Starling's theme of grieving together but differently is an important one and something that is interesting to explore. However, the film focused too much on forcing emotion from the viewers than trying to make the characters seem real and relatable.


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