Sappy melodrama “The Starling” feels a little off-putting because it has so much heart and feeling. This bittersweet, sentimental story of a couple having difficulty coping with a tragic loss is one of hope, friendship, and sincerity. It’s also very deliberate in its ability to tug on all the heartstrings, causing an unpleasant feeling of manipulation by director Theodore Melfi.
It’s been a year since Lily (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack (Chris O’Dowd) lost a member of their family, and each of them dealt with their grief in different ways. Jack had a mental breakdown and is still recovering in a psychiatric facility. Lily has been keeping herself busy with her job, gardening, and battling a very angry starling that has begun to nest in the yard. She strikes up an unconventional friendship with local veterinarian (and former psychologist) Larry (Kevin Kline), who reminds her that self-care is still very important for her healing process.
What’s so great about this film is the relationship with Larry and Lily, and the earnest performances from Kline and McCarthy. What’s not so great are the lame attempts at humor and the too-sweet moments that are forced and phony. But for every two missteps in the script, there’s one moment of brilliance.
Screenwriter Matt Harris is skilled at penning meaningful relationships. This is a very knowing script, and I don’t doubt that he has lived a situation similar to this because it’s so accurate and real. This is an adult story of grief that comes from a life experience that only grown-ups will have. The feelings expressed through the dialogue are spot-on, especially when the characters discuss how painful it is to face every single day just thinking about the trauma in their lives, and how devastating it is to relive every second of it. There’s a lot of truth here, and this script was written by a person who intimately knows what they are writing about.
I love the screenplay, but it’s a shame that the abundant sentimentality casts a haze over the film. Still, “The Starling” is a tender story of friends helping each other heal, and it sometimes just feels good to watch a movie like this.
This film was screened for review at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.