Director: Theodore Melfi
Writer: Matt Harris
Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd, Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, Skyler Gisondo, Laura Harrier, Rosalind Chao, Loretta Devine, and Kevin Kline
The script for The Starling was originally written back in 2005 and took a long time to find a director and cast. This week sees its release on Netflix as part of their commitment to at least one new film a week. It’s an overly sentimental emotional story about grief that is undercut by some of the worst comedy you can imagine.
Lilly (Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids) and Jack Maynard (Chris O’Dowd, The IT Crowd) are struggling with loss of their baby. It’s been just over a year since she died, Lilly is barely keeping it together at work and Jack is in a psychiatric hospital struggling with depression. There doesn’t seem to be a way out, and things are only made worse when a Starling starts to attack Lilly when she’s gardening.
There are some great moments in the film. It has a few hard-hitting moments, but it’s all undercut by small snippets of an idyllic life before tragedy struck and plain bad comedy. The opening of the film, the first fifteen minutes or so, are dark and sombre and get you invested for an emotional drama, then the score changes and the titled Starling attacks. The tone instantly changes, and it becomes almost a slapstick comedy in places, but it’s just not funny. The only actual laughs the film gets is from one of the patients at the vets who has been feeding their cat gas station food like nachos. The rest of the film is void of humour and it makes what could have been a great character film into a lifeless bore.
During the opening you want to care for the characters. They are well developed and feel real and in the first few scenes you start to get invested in them. The film just can’t decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama and, in the end, it doesn’t succeed at either. There’s a scene where Jack is explaining how he’s feeling in counselling and it’s an interesting moment, which is undercut by a Borat impression. It’s so out of nowhere, and not funny, but it sums up the film’s messy tone. There are other moments that are similar whenever the film starts to get to dark or real, it quickly takes another path down sentimental or comedy. It’s just a mess.
The performances are great, especially from McCarthy and O’Dowd, who really make the tragedy feel real and get you invested. It’s just a shame the script doesn’t give them enough to really bring the drama home. The oversentimental moments are just too much. It clashes with the tougher moments and make it so none of it works and the whole thing just drags on until you get to the inevitable ending that shouldn’t be there. It tries to hard to wrap everything up and give it a happy ending.
The Starling is a wasted idea. Deep down somewhere there is a really interesting character study around grief, but it’s hidden underneath schmaltz and comedy that doesn’t work and should be there. After such a powerful opening, it’s a real shame that this film isn’t worth watching.