After Lilly suffers a loss, a combative Starling takes nest beside her quiet home. The feisty bird taunts and attacks the grief-stricken Lilly. On her journey to expel the Starling, she rediscovers her will to live and capacity for love.
Have you ever seen someone doing something wrong that you know you could fix, but were unable to? Like, you didn’t think it was your place so speak up or they were simply too far away to hear, that sort of thing? That was the sort of frustration I was experiencing while watching Theodore Melfi’s “The Starling,” one of the most maddening films in recent memory. Had I been able to get in touch with the director, I would have been able to repair his movie, tout suite. But alas, communication wasn’t available, the film was completed and the damage done. (On a side note, I could fix everything that’s wrong with the Academy Awards telecast as well…if only they would call…)
Melissa McCarthy and Scott O’Dowd star as Lilly and Jack Maynard, an estranged couple mourning the loss of their infant daughter. While she has tried to pick up the pieces of her life and move on, he’s been institutionalized, having attempted suicide. In an attempt to heal, Lilly plants a garden – yes, symbolism is applied with a trowel here – and for her efforts, is attacked by a rogue starling. Why? No real reason, other than the fact that screenwriter Matt Harris likes to rely on heavy-handed metaphors.
As if she’s not dealing with enough, poor Lilly continues to be attacked by this pesky, not-at-all-convincing CGI bird, her husband continues to retreat from her and she’s being harassed by her obtuse boss (a wasted Timothy Olyphant). What’s a girl to do? Fortunately, Harris provides her with an all too convenient safety net in the person of Larry (Kevin Kline) a former therapist who abandoned that field to become a veterinarian.
At times poignant, at others trite, the movie vacillates between being a genuinely sincere look at the difficulties of dealing with grief and scenes that are so ham-fisted you’ll find yourself involuntarily rolling your eyes again and again. The biggest problem is that Melfi doesn’t trust in his material or the ability of his cast to sell it. Clumsy, obvious pop songs with lyrics like, “When you fall, I’ll catch you,” play throughout to drive home the script’s none-too-subtle intent, just in case you missed it. Even more troubling is the tone lacks the gravity befitting the subject matter. Out of place jokes and quirky characters pop up that prove jarring rather than amusing. I’m not sure how you make a lighthearted film about grief, but this ain’t it.
What proves most frustrating is that Kline and McCarthy are putting forth their best efforts in the service of a script that doesn’t serve them well. The moments in which they quietly talk about what is troubling them are done with a deft touch that sticks out like a sore thumb amidst all the hackneyed scenes that precede them. If Melfi and Harris had made a film that had consisted solely of conversations between these two, they would have achieved the sort of moving story they fall so desperately short of achieving.
And that’s the problem with so many movies today – the fear to keep things simple. Had Melfi been able to hear my voice, imploring him to get rid of the titular bird and all the other unnecessary, distracting narrative clutter, I think “The Starling” would have really soared. But, what do I know, I rely on hokey wordplay to end my reviews…