IANS Review: ‘The Starling’: A serious premise manipulatively narrated (IANS Rating: ***)

Film: The Starling (Streaming on Netflix)

Duration: 104 minutes

Director: Theodore Melfi

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Kevin Kline, Kim Quinn, Timothy Olyphant, Skyler Gisondo, Daveed Diggs, Laura Harrier, Rosalind Chao and Loretta Devine

IANS Rating: *** Imagine this scenario at a psychiatric hospital: The wife of a patient seated in the reception is denied visiting rights by her husband. She laments, “I’ve been scratched off the guest list in a mental hospital by my own husband.”

What does this conjure up in your mind? Imagine the pain and agony the wife is enduring. What is she supposed to do? Leave and go home. She has been advised, “At least quitting is an active choice.”

But quitting is the last thing on Lilly’s (Melissa McCarthy) mind. She’s a grieving mother who lost her daughter Katie nearly a year ago and has never felt more distant from her withdrawn husband Jack (Chris O’Dowd). When Jack is asked, “Is it your intention to punish her?”, he simply states, “No, no, it is only my intention to punish myself.”

Coping alone in her house, Lilly attempts to self-help by gardening. Her time outdoors brings her into frequently aggressive contact with the feisty starling a territorial bird who is nesting on her property. The bird’s turf wars with Lilly are a running source of somewhat repetitive slapstick. Lilly tries various methods to get rid of the bird, till one fine day she hits it with a rock and filled with remorse she rushes it to Larry (Kevin Kline) a vet-cum-therapist who attends to the bird.

Funny as it might sound, we are given to realise that most of our actions are usually about ourselves and we don’t let things be as it is. It is only, when Larry gives a pep talk to Lilly that we realise how the petite titular bird, is used as an analogy.

He tells her, “Starlings are different than other birds. When they mate, they build a nest together and they protect the nest, together. They are just not meant to exist in the world alone, on their own.” This subtly making Lilly aware of her situation.

While Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, and Kevin Kline deliver good performances, their characters follow a course so obvious and trite that it prevents any real emotional connection to them or the story’s serious premise.

Daveed Diggs as a hospital attendant and Timothy Olyphant as Lilly’s unsympathetic boss, are wasted in insignificant roles.

Cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s wide-angle frames aesthetically capture the locales and the mood of the narrative. His frames are bright and cheerful, and they effortlessly merge with the computer-generated images. It is a treat to see the starling as it bobs, weaves, and soars across town or Lilly’s farm with gay abandon.

The visuals, along with Benjamin Wallisch’s soaring background score, and the two songs by Brandi Carlile, are seamlessly layered by Editor Matt Friedman.

Overall, Director Theodore Melfi’s oeuvre is simple, minimalistic and at the same time appears manipulative, especially when he uses the analogy.