Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd swap their usual, more traditional comedic characters and performances to play a couple struggling with grief and loss in Netflix’s sappy and fuzzy The Starling, featuring a desynchronized CGI bird causing pesky issues throughout. to be a metaphor for, you know, the mysteries of life and all that stuff.
McCarthy and O’Dowd do their best and give the best in a film that really wants to be an exploration of heartbreak and heartbreak, but also with a dramatic Garden State style vibe that pretty much cleans up and sinks it all. Add in the bird (the titular starling) moving around in a cloud of overly sentimental flattery, feeling like Forrest Gump’s feather, and the serious, heart-wrenching subject is swept away by a tide of silly hokum.
The starling gallery
Kevin Kline, who we all better see more of in general, feels lost here. Not because of his screen time, as he’s the third lead role here, but in his character’s role and arc. Following the loss of their young daughter, Lily of McCarthy and Jack of O’Dowd find themselves in very different places. As Jack spends time in a mental health facility, Lily trudges forward, more or less refusing to respond to her own anguish. Kline plays her default therapist, a local vet who was previously a counselor but now prefers the company of animals. Throughout the story, Kline’s curmudgeon warms up to Lily and, through a few conversations about the Territorial Bird in her backyard, helps her perform various vague platitudes to help her recover. You’ll want a Good Will Hunting type breakthrough, but you’ll get the wisdom from the Farmer’s Almanac.
The movie even seems to know that it should make more use of Kline’s abilities, putting him onscreen in a way that is totally unnecessary. There’s a moment between Jack and Kline’s Dr. Fine that serves no purpose other than bringing these two together in one scene. And since we’re talking about wasted talent here, there are huge draws – former and current front-runners of their own TV shows – showing up for next to nothing roles.
Timothy Olyphant is meant to be a comedic relief but turns out to be as fake as the bird, while Hamilton and Snowpiercer’s Daveed Diggs is barely relegated to a blip. Emmy winner Loretta Devine, on the other hand, best represents The Starling’s confused attempt to convey a cathartic story to those who don’t want to endure anything too heavy or revealing.
There are a few moments of true wonder, and you don’t often see the story of a coupler trying to find a solution after losing a child. Usually these stories focus on one parent rather than the other, or even eliminate one altogether by breaking the relationship and that partner leaves, but The Starling actually weighs in on both Lily and Heroes’ obstacles. Jack (more or less) also.
In doing so, however, and throwing a computer bird that never fails to take you out of any emotional territory, The Starling Scrambles Its Own Waters tells us a story that pretty much demands a happy ending brought on by a convenient reveal and cheesy reconciliation. . Again, this is a serious topic that has been coated in sugar in weird and often boring ways.
Directed by Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent, Hidden Figures) – and with songs by The Lumineers, Judah & the Lion and Brandi Carlile – The Starling is not far from a Hallmark condolence card. In free moments the subject is allowed to go to honest places, but most of the time he is painted in a corner out of whim and obscurity in the form of a bird which gives both the main characters and the shield us from introspection.