New from Al and Linda Lerner on Movies and Shakers: Blackbird

This is more a theater piece than a film, with a stellar cast helmed by Susan Sarandon who gives a powerful performance in a film with a powerful subject but it has it’s shortcomings.  Sarandon is the matriarch with ALS who pulls her family together for a final gathering that explores her family’s relationships and acceptance of her wish to die on her own terms. It’s based on the play Silent August by Billie August and premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Director Roger Mitchell (My Cousin Rachel, Royal Shakespeare Theatre), cast A-List actors, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasakowska, Sam Neill, Rainn Wilson and excellent supporting actors to fill in the family. We found that some of the casting didn’t quite fit the roles these actors were playing. Kate Winslet plays uber controlling daughter and older sister, Jennifer to very screwed up little sister, Anna (Wasikowska). 

Mitchell and writer Christian Torpe peel away layers like an onion showing the blemishes over the years that have pitted Lily’s daughters against each other. Lily just wants to see her daughters come to some kind of peaceful relationship before she dies. She also wants to know that everybody is going to be ok with each other. And she wants them to accept her wish to die before ALS incapacitates her. 

Winslet seemed out of place in the role, either too young or too old. Couldn’t decide which. You hate her character from the start, especially the way she treats her bow-tied, subservient husband, Michael (Wilson). They do have one scene that adds humor to the film where Michael actually gets the balls to do something about the way he’s treated and show that this couple actually might love each other. 

Their son, Jonathan (Anson Boon) is a good kid who is pretty human and not the angel his mother thinks he is. He’s pretty sullen and quiet, trying to keep out of his helicopter mom’s path.

Wasikowska as Anna has had and still has big issues. She plays nasty and rebellious, but mostly uncomfortable in her own skin. She brings her on again, off again girlfriend/partner, Chris, (Bex-Taylor-Klaus) who is just trying to tolerate Anna and the rest of the family’s emotional machinations. 

Much of  this script is uber melodramatic, But there is some fun as well as dark humor, as exists in just about all families. There are some poignant emotional moments. At times they seem contrived. Lily’s best friend, played by Lindsay Duncan (Birdman, Alice Through the Looking Glass) has been part of the family forever. She has been there for every important occasion and gone on every family trip. She knows the ins and outs of everybody almost too well. To us, she became suspect as the last to show up at this last family reunion.

The most heartfelt scene is their make believe holiday dinner where Lily gets dressed to the nines wearing a red velvet dress and from her place at the head of the table, gives each family member a special gift from her own private collection of jewelry and memories. They even pass around a joint. When it’s passed to Jennifer’s son he takes a hit, much to the chagrin of his mother, still trying to control every situation. Getting high together in the scene provides entertainment and fun for all, along with admissions.

Meanwhile, her doctor-husband, Paul, is trying to keep it all peaceful,  hoping to fulfill his wife’s wishes. Sam Neill plays the compassionate husband very supportively, but passively. We think his role could have been developed even more. He seems more like a bystander.

Sarandon never gets terribly maudlin. She almost looks too beautiful and, at time, too cheery for what she and her family are going through. This film will put you in touch with your own mortality. Despite it’s drawbacks, director Mitchell handles a sensitive subject relatively well with this collection of fairly disturbing relatives.  

The most heartfelt scene is their make believe holiday dinner where Lily gets dressed to the nines wearing a red velvet dress and from her place at the head of the table, gives each family member a special gift from her own private collection of jewelry and memories. They even pass around a joint. When it’s passed to Jennifer’s son he takes a hit, much to the chagrin of his mother, still trying to control every situation. Getting high together in the scene provides entertainment and fun for all, along with admissions. 

Meanwhile, her doctor-husband, Paul, is trying to keep it all peaceful,  hoping to fulfill his wife’s wishes. Sam Neill plays the compassionate husband very supportively, but passively. We think his role could have been developed even more. He seems more like a bystander.

Lily almost looks too beautiful and, at times, too cheery for what she and her family are going through. Sarandon never gets terribly maudlin, but will definitely get to you at the family holiday dinner. This film will put you in touch with your own mortality. Despite it’s drawbacks, director Mitchell handles a sensitive subject relatively well with this collection of fairly disturbing relatives.  

Screen Media Films   1 hour 37 minutes   R           In Select Theaters and On Demand 

The post Blackbird first appeared on Movies and Shakers.

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