In bits and pieces, The Starling has its own moments of personal glory, few though they may be.
The Starling (2021) Review By Mark McPherson
Published on December 15, 2021
Rating 3 /5
Everybody deals with grief differently. It’s perhaps refreshing that a film such as The Starling tries to approach this topic with a light mixture of drama and comedy. It’s a tender picture from the talents of Melissa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd who have done a decent job balancing both tones. Despite some jarring directorial choices, they mostly make it work.
McCarthy plays Lilly, a woman struggling to go on with her life alone. She’s still dealing with the death of her baby, unable to bring herself to throw out parts of her child’s bedroom. Her inability to face the future finds her more distracted at her grocery store job. Her husband, Jack (O’Dowd) has found himself unable to cope and has checked into a mental institution.
Lilly tries to turn her life around by cleaning things up at her place. She ditches the baby stuff in a heartfelt manner of slowly ripping off the bandaid. Her priorities then shift to the garden, figuring it’s a project that can restore her ability to go on. Hindering that project, however, is a starling bird that continuously attacks her during her gardening. Her feud with the bird takes a different turn when she fears she may take a life.
Lilly’s encounter with birds leads her to encounter the charming and unorthodox psychiatrist-turned-veterinarian Larry Fine (Kevin Kline). Fine is the kinda character you might find in a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode, dabbling in two professions and being a bit too honest in his questionable bedside manner. His insulting attitude and penchant for drinks amid surgery, however, proves to be just what Lilly needs to tend to her garden, both mentally and literally. He’s also very helpful when it comes to healing birds that Lilly may or may not have injured in her garden tending.
While Lilly recovers in her own way, Jack struggles to get through his therapy. While he does take somewhat to pottery, aspects of children do trigger some emotions that he finds himself grappling to handle. He’s reminded so much of the fatherhood denied him that he finds his many visits with Lilly hard to navigate for conversation. Slowly, he manages to come to terms with himself enough that can start biting back a bit at his therapist and maybe even find himself well enough to go back to a life with Lilly.
Director Theodore Melfi walks a tightrope of trying to manage meaningful drama and low-key comedy, hoping for some smirks amid the tears the same way he did with St. Vincent and Hidden Figures. He doesn’t quite manage it this time around. There are a lot of good scenes that sadly never quite take off or fail to jump between tones.
There are a few moments that work well when favoring the singular emotion of tragedy. The scene where Lilly finds herself rocking back and forth in the chair where she would hold her baby in her child’s room is a bittersweet depiction of grief. The scene where she bickers with a bird in her garden isn’t as silly as the film hopes it will be. One of the most off-putting scenes features Jack coming to the realization of his recovery. During his emotional speech, he tries to crack a Borat joke in between and it’s more baffling than a break from the somber.
In bits and pieces, The Starling has its own moments of personal glory, few though they may be. The film is worth watching for McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd who deliver strong performances. But, as with most of their roles, it just makes you wish they had a better script to work with.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.