Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd star in the drama, which has just been released on Netflix The Starling a married couple plunged into grief after the death of their own daughter. Overall, this works well, even if the eponymous poultry of all things clouds this impression massively. We reveal more about this in our review.
OT: The Starling (USA 2021)
The plot summary
After Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and her husband Jack (Chris O’Dowd) lose their daughter to sudden infant death syndrome at just one year old, the relationship between the two lovers is at stake. Both grieve so differently that they have lost sight of each other. They live separated. A bitter fight with a territorial bird for dominance in her garden proves to be an unusual outlet for Lilly’s grief, which she, with the support of veterinarian Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline) ultimately gives her the courage to mend her relationships and rediscover her ability to love…
Theodore Melfi’s The Starling was originally supposed to be released in cinemas internationally. It also celebrated its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. But fate (or Netflix) meant something different with the grief work drama of “St. Vincent” director; The streaming service bought the film for itself and released it shortly after the premiere. This step can certainly also be explained by the fact that the two-time Oscar nominee Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?”) is not a blank slate for Netflix. Just a few months ago, the miserable superhero farce “Thunder Force” was brought to the public, which was radically criticized by critics, but made headlines so that subscribers did not punish it with contempt, but instead rewarded it with clicks. At least in the States (here they kept a low profile with numbers, which can’t mean anything good for the service that doesn’t sting with success reports), because there, despite her recent mistakes, McCarthy is still a crowd favorite; A bit like Adam Sandler, who now produces exclusively for Netflix. Another assumption regarding the purchase of The Starling is that the topic alone sounds tempting for film awards: a married couple mourning their deceased daughter and in the middle of it all a handful of well-known actors – that at first glance screams “The film award juries of this one “The world should at least listen up.” But as in the case of John Crowley’s novel adaptation “The Goldfinch”, the initial joy was followed by great disillusionment – birds simply don’t seem to bring filmmakers any luck.
Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) takes in an injured star.
The Starling doesn’t have nearly as much potential as “The Goldfinch” because it simply isn’t designed to be as ambitious. Theodore Melfi thinks much smaller and more intimate, although his composer Benjamin Wallfisch does (“Mortal Kombat”) On an acoustic level, the film is blown up into a clumsy parade of kitsch that – to a large extent at least – sells it short. The same applies to the optics. Lawrence Sher (who already gained “bird experience” in the pleasant comedy “A Year Out of the Birds”, but also photographed “Joker”) immerses pretty much every scene in bright, sun-drenched summer colors that even make soft focus unnecessary. Although this highlights the paradise significance of the garden for Lilly, it suggests a feel-good film, which The Starling is not actually at all. And then there is the titular flying animal, whose – unfortunately there is no other way to put it – terrible CGI animation gives the audience an idea of something bad in the first few minutes of the film. And unfortunately that won’t change in the next hour and three quarters. One almost has to speak of luck that the mourning allegorical bird symbolism fades into the background at some point anyway. So at least only the opening sequence, which is reminiscent of the world-famous feather scene in “Forrest Gump”, and a moment in which Melissa McCarthy cares for and lifts the animated bird in an unbelievable way (you can just tell that she is not holding anything in her hand) remain in memory, so that the narrative strengths can come to the fore. The Starling is the exact opposite of “Style over Substance”.
“Theodore Melfi thinks small and intimately, even though his composer Benjamin Wallfisch blows the film up on an acoustic level into a clumsy kitsch parade that – to a large extent at least – sells it short.”
Above all, Melissa McCarthy and her fellow actor Chris O’Dowd, who, like her, appeared in “Bridesmaids” but did not have a scene with her in it, succeed in largely forgetting the directorial weaknesses; Even if it’s a shame that they’re only allowed to stand in front of the camera together for a few moments. The script written by Matt Harris tells the fates of the two mourners primarily separately. This particularly highlights the different types of processing. While Lilly tries to distract herself with energy in her better phases (and McCarthy finally gets to play again!), Jack can’t get past the phase of depression, which ultimately leads him to a psychiatric clinic. Harris’ formulates these fundamentally different processes well and realistically. And Melfi illustrates the gradual rapprochement between the two once-lovers on a directorial level, with the two sharing scenes more and more frequently as the grieving process progresses (of course the five phases of denial, anger, negotiation, depression and acceptance play a major role here). until they decide to walk their path side by side again. Even with such a devastating subject matter, this allows for a cautiously happy ending without seeming too glorified.
Lilly is no longer safe in her garden…
Instead of Lilly and Jack, the middle part of The Starling mainly features Lilly and the former psychologist and current veterinarian Dr. Larry Fine at the center of the action, who have some equally profound, but not too theoretical, conversations about how parents can deal with such a severe blow of fate. At times the symbolism of the bird comes into play again, but it does not run through the entire story as consistently as the title suggests. Kevin Kline is convincing for this (“Beauty and the Beast”) as a listener and a kind of mentor for Lilly; This is where you avoid the comparison to “St. Vincent”, in which Bill Murray took over the role of the lifestyle old man instead of Kline. The difference is that The Starling is never about scraping out some soft core from under a hard shell. Although Dr. Fine initially shows a certain disinterest in digging out his knowledge of psychology in order to help a woman he doesn’t know. But the two quickly become closer. In “St. Vincent,” the appeal was more about exploring the differences between the two main characters. A narrative trick that wouldn’t have suited The Starling at all. The film is simply much more drama than comedy.
“Melfi illustrates the gradual rapprochement between the two once lovers on a staged level, with the two having scenes together more and more frequently as the grieving process gradually progresses, until they decide to go their way side by side again.”
Nevertheless, the film has its comic moments that can seem out of place here and there in its melancholic environment. Especially since Melfi isn’t squeamish with the punch lines (but don’t worry: the creatives completely leave out the banal McCarthy slapstick like in their last films!) and thus exploits the oft-quoted “from exulting as high as the sky to saddened to death” range. This seems clumsy at times, but it gets to the heart of the state of mind of the two main characters, who finally want to get out of their grief, but are simply not able to do so apart from brief moments of (mostly random) happiness.
Conclusion: Despite some dramaturgical bumps, The Starling is a much better story than a heavily staged film, but in which Melissa McCarthy in particular can once again prove what a strong actress she is.
The Starling is now available to stream on Netflix.