The Starling is an incredibly predictable exploration of grief, wrapped in the packaging of one of the most familiar tropes in the genre. A woman grapples with grief while at war with an element of nature, in this case, a dive-bombing starling. We have seen this plot a dozen times over, whether it is a woman Eat, Pray, Love-ing through nature or a downtrodden horse girl learning to love again by taming a wild mustang. It’s been done. Unfortunately, The Starling tries to set itself apart from these other films, while being exactly like them.
The Starling Spoon-Feeds Audiences the “Feel Good” Vibes
The Starling is not a bad film by any means, but it disingenuously sets itself up as something new when it is not. Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd play an endearing couple, Lilly and Jack, who endure unimaginable pain when their one-year-old daughter dies suddenly from SIDS. Lilly manages to soldier through the pain, while Jack has to be institutionalized after attempting to commit suicide. All very heavy subject matter that is, for some inexplicable reason, not given the weight you would expect it to be given.
The film is riddled with overly contrived metaphors, predictable plot points, and it even features the former psychologist turned county veterinarian that offers Lilly sage advice in life and in her battle against the starlings in her garden.
As to be expected with these overly cliche-filled films, Lilly rekindles her love for gardening and in doing so finds herself at odds with a starling who repeatedly dive-bombs her and causes her some minor head trauma. The metaphor, of course, is that Lilly and the starling are one-in-the-same. Stubborn, resilient, and protective. While Lilly's nest might be empty and her grief still fresh, the starling's nest is full and Lilly has to learn to reconcile that with the bird's attacks.
In addition to McCarthy and O'Dowd, The Starling features Daveed Diggs as a hospital attendant, Kevin Kline as the county vet, Timothy Olyphant as Lilly's grocery store boss, and Skyler Gisondo as her co-worker. Their talent is completely wasted in their extremely minor roles. Even McCarthy and O’Dowd are underutilized in their ability to blend comedic timing with grief.
If you are looking for an extremely straightforward exploration of grief that takes no risks and does not attempt to reinvent the wheel — The Starling is your best bet. It has its sweet moments, but it is just another addition to the ‘woman explores grief while at odds with nature’ shelf.
The Starling had its world premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. It will have a limited theatrical release starting September 17th, prior to streaming exclusively on Netflix on September 24th, 2021.
Check out our full coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.