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The Starling ★★★



Director: Ted Melfi

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline

Released: 17th September 2021 (Netflix)

The Starling operates as an allegory, as it attempts to explore the grieving process with reference to an errant Starling that enters the lead characters’ lives. Unfortunately, despite its stellar cast, the film’s efforts are blunt and clumsy as it strives to present a feel-good moment for a bleak period of life. It goes without saying that The Starling may divide audiences as, whilst its resounding message of hope is welcomed, there is that sensation that the film has wasted an opportunity to embrace the whole emotional gamut that its actors would provide, and so it lacks substance.

That is not to acknowledge the unwavering chemistry between Melissa McCarthy as Lilly and Chris O’Dowd as Jack in those moments where the script allows them to shine and demonstrate their couple compatibility before a life-changing situation. The Starling misguidedly focuses its energies on the titular creature rather than delve into the emotional complexities of Lilly and Jack’s situation from the outset. This introduction to the Starling bird is somewhat perplexing. There are clumsy attempts from a vet psychologist played by Kevin Kline, who is recommended to assist Lilly’s woes, to draw parallels between the coupling of Starling birds and humans. That is one example of the light humour throughout the film; however, it seems unwittingly comical with poor special effects. The Starling unintentionally seems akin to a children’s film during these moments, which may delight some.

However, given that the film adopts a slow pace to unravel the loss felt by the couple, there needed to be additional elements to captivate rather than a heavy reliance placed on the actors to carry the material. Equally, the film’s upbeat soundtrack is jarring at best and seems to be an unusual choice to accompany such a momentous period of upset and loss for Lilly and Jack.

The impact of loss can be tremendous, with the pain pervading several aspects of life which may not be instantly apparent. For some people, similar to Jack, the pain can be so immense that they embrace the life of a recluse to hide from encountering more painful realities. The Starling does approach this aspect of grieving sensitively, as the camera maintains a distance whilst exploring the different coping strategies utilised by Lilly and Jack respectively. The film centres on Lilly’s pain, and it eventually becomes clear that she has felt inclined to perpetuate that strong woman trope and manage things by herself, which is heartbreaking to watch.

The Starling has those few insightful moments; however, director Ted Melfi’s subtle commentary on the changing dynamics for a couple when encountering grief conveys the emotional resonance that the film needs. Its aim to create the overarching sense of hope after loss means that the nuance needed for a film of this nature is glossed over and, at best muddled, leaving a lacklustre message overall.

Unfortunately, those glimpses of the profound anguish combined with poignancy expressed by McCarthy, who delivers a compelling performance, cannot prevent that inescapable desire to shake things up within the film, similar to the titular Starling’s actions, or else just to fly away from its confusion and observe from a distance.

The Starling has an interesting premise but ultimately lacks the confidence to delve fully into the messier psychological aspects of grief, to its detriment. As such, the film cannot escape the limitations of a charming, family drama, which plays it safe and obvious, and therefore feels very middle of the road.

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