After Melissa McCarthy was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar in 2019, I finally thought that Hollywood was ready to offer her some juicier roles. I know that she loves a comedy but, as we’ve seen, they don’t always work out well. Can You Ever Forgive Me? forced people to see just how talented a performer she is beyond slapstick. I get excited every time she appears in a new film but, for the most part, I end up disappointed. That doesn’t stop me hoping and I will give pretty much everything a try if she’s in the cast list. The fact that her latest film also stars Chris O’Dowd was just an added benefit. He’s another great actor who hasn’t been given the kind of meaty role that he deserves. Maybe this time would work out for both of them?
Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
It’s not that The Starling isn’t trying to do something worthy or emotional. It’s tackling a heavy and important subject. The problem is that it’s doing it in completely the wrong way. It doesn’t help that the film itself is under 2 hours and a lot of that time is spent watching a CGI bird going about it business. I have nothing against CGI birds per se but it doesn’t really help develop the emotional crux of the narrative as much as letting the human story play out would. What we have here is a film that lacks depth and development. It oversimplifies everything and relies on stereotypes and cliches instead of well-written characters.
Even people who haven’t actually lost a child can surely understand the insurmountable devastation parents must feel when it happens to them. At least to a degree. It’s not the kind of thing that a writer or filmmaker should tackle lightly. Unfortunately, nobody told the team behind The Starling that and it becomes the set up for a twee and saccharine lifetime movie. Melissa McCarthy plays Lily Maynard and Chris O’Dowd plays her husband Jack. A year earlier, the couple’s baby daughter Kate died, which pushed Jack to attempt to take his own life. As such, he checked himself into a psychiatric facility and Lily has been left to cope on her own. In an attempt to figure her own mental health out, Lily finds someone to talk to. It just so happens that he’s an ex-psychologist turned vet. Oh, and she is also being terrorised by a small CGI starling.
This is the kind of indie film quirkiness that doesn’t really sit well alongside the very difficult subject of sudden infant death syndrome. The death of the couple’s child is nothing more than a device for misjudged comedy and trite melodrama. It’s not great. Whoever thought it was a good idea to include scenes in which the fully grown Lily is literally flipped through the air by a tiny bird needs to rethink their career. Not only does it defy logic but it has no place in a film that also attempts to tackle depression and the loss of a child in a sensitive and mature way. The Starling sees the loss of a baby as something to be pretty flippant about and I don’t understand why. There are plenty of great films and books out there that have tackled this issue and they’ve done it really well. The Starling adds nothing to the conversation.
Netflix is known for picking up projects that nobody else wants and I feel as though it got a little distracted by the cast list here. This is a film full of great actors being forced to do subpar things. Even the incredible Kevin Kline isn’t enough to bring this back down to earth as Dr Larry Fine. He’s an absolute sweetheart but he can’t save this from being an absolutely ludicrous and bad film. Also a film that romanticises mental health issues, depression and SIDS. I mean, you could easily watch this film and think that the takeaway was the death of a kid is a great way to revitalise your life and your marriage. It’s awful and oversimplifies so many complex and difficult ideas in favour of Hollywood happy endings. This film is as horribly misjudged and unrealistic as the CGI bird that keeps slapping the audience in the face with its super unsubtle symbolism.