It’s festival season again and after last year’s strange hybrids due to you-know-what, there is an air of normality flowing through the closing-in autumnal nights that feels like a warm blanket. And so, outside No Way Home’s and No Time To Die‘s, begins the long road to the Oscars and speculation as to who will be in the mix come the turn of the year. One film initially hoping to be part of the conversation is The Starling, a drama about loss, grief, separation and, well, a bird that was set to lead the “dramedy” hopefuls through the busy months. Sadly, it didn’t see the window right in front of its eyes.
Newly married couple Jack (Chris O’Dowd) and Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) have just welcomed their first child, a girl, into the world and we first meet them painting the new nursery. Fast forward a year and the couple have separated due to the tragic loss of their daughter: Jack has entered a mental health facility while Lilly struggles to maintain any equilibrium outside whilst also being attacked by a starling who has nested in their garden. Soon, psychologist-turned-vet Dr. Larry (Kevin Kline) enters Lilly’s life and, through his unorthodox methods, may be the only one to help the couple repair some of the devastation that has befallen them.
Oh, where to start with this one? Honestly it’s a tough one to crack but fundamentally, The Starling fails almost completely despite all the positives it seemingly had going for it and the winning ensemble that, on paper, would get many bums of seats in anticipation of some daring, fresh work. And yet, within minutes of the film’s beginning you’re already wondering how this one lured so many talents to it and why, despite all its good intentions, it falls so short of its lofty ambitions.
Director Theodore Melfi, who won many admirers for his work on Hidden Figures and St. Vincent, again tries to delicately balance the light and the dark, the soft and the hard, the humour with the sadness. But out of his hands – the film’s scribe this time is Matt Harris, not Melfi himself – it falls woefully short, is painfully derivative and altogether misguided as the film moves from one overly metaphorical scene to the other without any patience or thoughtfulness, instead content with signposting what to emote at any one time. A story of such tragic and life-changing loss and the mental, physical and emotional strains from such an event should be handled delicately, carefully but choosing to ram such things down our thoughts without any care isn’t going to make for good fiction, and it doesn’t. At all.
Blame can’t be squared at its winning cast who perform admirably as they trudge through the ever-thickening mixture of ill-timed comedy and horrifically bellowing dramatic notes that urge, nay demand how you must think and feel as ever clunky metaphors hit you in the head as hard as the titular bird scratches at McCarthy‘s head. Maybe the bird had a point, especially when committing the cardinal sin of given Timothy Olyphant noting to do.
McCarthy, fresh from her barnstorming turn in Can You Ever Forgive Me? – forgetting the mediocre comedies in-between – tries her hardest to bring some joy to proceedings but can’t perform miracles, while O’Dowd, whilst admirable, feels miscast. Kline, meanwhile, is as excellent as ever, back from what feels like an eternity away, lighting up the film whenever he is on screen and his absence from the rest is all-too-noticeable. In the end, this is more carrion that soaring fledgling.
Comedy, Drama | USA, 2021 | 12A | 24th September 2021 (UK) | Netflix | Dir.Theodore Melfi | Melissa McCarthy, Scott MacArthur, Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Kline, Chris O’Dowd, Skyler Gisondo,