New from A Reel of One’s Own by Andrea Thompson: Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Starling

“The Starling” is a movie with the sort of roles great comedic actors seem to feel a need to play every now and then, since apparently the ability to make audiences laugh just isn’t respectable enough. From the appropriately quirky soundtrack to the marriage under stress, to grappling with what in film is the ultimate loss, that of a child, it’s got just the kind of indie cred that can allow an actor to prove they can do serious without detracting from their image. It’s sure to get those critics musing about range and such though.

Perhaps Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, who play estranged married couple Lily and Jack Maynard, think it’s simply been too long since they went the serious route? If so, “The Starling” is more of a reminder of what they can achieve despite the material, which has them growing apart due to grief, something the best of us can relate to in our post-COVID reality. And they’re mourning the loss of their infant daughter no less, the pain of which can still be very much felt a year later. 

Not much of a surprise, and Lily is burying herself in catering to others, an easy task due to her job in retail, while Jack is still attempting to pull himself together in a mental health clinic. Heavy stuff, but things get rather unintentionally hilarious as Lily is forced to battle a very obviously CGI bird which keeps attacking her in her yard. Is it the titular starling? Oh yes. Will it end up teaching her about loss, family, and how little control we really have? Almost certainly.

There’s a bunch of other charismatic, gifted actors in some side roles to give a somewhat repetitive journey a bit more character, but when none of them have any sign of life whatsoever outside of providing occasional support to the central duo, even stars such as Timothy Olyphant and Daveed Diggs don’t make much of an impression. Hell, even the therapist turned veterinarian, played by Kevin Kline, who should have the biggest impact as McCarthy’s reluctant analyst as she tentatively attempts to address her own lingering issues, fails to make much of a splash.

Maybe it’s just that writer Matt Harris can’t bear to go to the truly dark places grief can take us, or even allow us to really worry about the marriage “The Starling” wants us to be invested in so badly. These two love each other, they clearly work well together, but we don’t really worry about them coming apart, not with how safe their struggles remain, especially where costs and missed payments remain unmentioned.

None of it gets offensive at least, and “The Starling” will no doubt be soothing to those who crave the soothing balm of easy answers and the reassurance that everything really will be okay after the worst happens. It doesn’t exactly make for a bad movie, but it can’t be called good either.

Grade: C-

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