After a married couple – Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack Maynard (Chris O’Dowd) – suffer a devastating loss, they both struggle in their grief. While Jack gets checked into hospital, Lilly continues her job at a convenience store while also doing the upkeep of their house. One day, a starling settles in the backyard, driving Lilly demented as they compete over the territory. She is eventually advised to seek out Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline), who is a psychologist-turned-veterinarian. His worldly advice and friendship turns out to be just what Lilly – and Jack – need.
Theodore Melfi has proven an interesting director, his work spanning the Oscar-nominated (though now more controversial, given its association with the white saviour narrative) ‘Hidden Figures’, as well as prior Melissa McCarthy/O'Dowd starrer ‘St Vincent’. Surely both features can be accused of being a little clichéd and corny at times, but ‘The Starling’ takes the biscuit.
There’s a whole “so what happened to the baby” element of the narrative that feels forced, taking away from the sensitivity and emotion of the subject matter. Worse still is the indie soundtrack of the movie. Every time anything remotely emotional happens, the audience’s ears are blasted with some moany song and lyrics, the actors apparently not good enough at their job of emoting to the audience. One needs some lonesome melody and sappy lyrics to make sure the point gets across: this part of the movie is sad.
It’s not just the music of ‘The Starling’ that is forced down one’s throat but the script from Matt Harris as well. After nothing happens in the first 20 minutes, the film’s working through of the challenging topics of grief and acceptance feels hammy, inorganic and disingenuous. It’s rather vulgarly transparent in its effort to make you cry and to bait movie awards at the same time too.
It’s such a shame because McCarthy and O’Dowd are talented actors and share great chemistry here, having previously worked on ‘Bridesmaids’ together. The MVP though is Kevin Kline, delivering a masterful balance of comedy and tragedy. It’s a shame his character gets the short end of the stick as the ending to his story arc just kind of fizzles out.
Those three impressive performances aside, ‘The Starling’ also feels very silly at times, which again takes away from its supposedly profound central themes. The CGI quality of its bird characters is quite dreadful, and the metaphor of its titular character is so contrived as to be sickening. Honestly there’s little point in watching the movie at all. Audiences will take little from it, and forget the feature almost immediately after seeing it.