“Some things are just out of our control. And the sooner you figure out what they are, the faster you can let them go.” — The Starling
Theodore Melfi’s The Starling began streaming on Netflix on 17th September 2021 and boasts of a wonderful cast including Melissa McCarthy, Kevin Kline and Chris O’Dowd. And one cast member nobody should ever forget are the tiny starlings who added an incredibly moving flavour to the film, leaving behind a bittersweet aftertaste.
Based on Matt Harris’ screenplay, the film sees a couple trying hard to cope with the tragic loss of their daughter, Katie. Jack is admitted in a psychiatric ward due to his suicidal attempt while his wife, Lily is left alone to pick up the broken pieces of her heart. After a series of unfortunate accidents involving the territorial starlings in her garden, along with the “non-therapy therapy” sessions with a kind-hearted psychiatrist-turned-vet, Lily finds peace and slowly works with Jack to salvage their marriage.
The film is a heartwarming take on grief, loss and depression. Opening with the couple painting murals on the walls of their daughter’s nursery, there is an undeniable beating heart to the project. The filmmaker, very cautiously, never shows a picture of Katie. Instead, Katie’s laughs are heard in the beginning and she lives on via the bits and pieces of the story that her parents share. The faceless child whose tragic and untimely demise shatters the entire family dynamic is the sole force that binds them together.
O’Dowd and McCarthy have previously worked together in Bridesmaids, St. Vincent and This is 40 and their chemistry and understanding is palpable. They share moments of quiet silence where they speak volumes. From the ward, Jack breathes into the telephone and Lily tries to distract him. Their misunderstandings culminate from their inability to deal with grief and pain. The unbridgeable gap between them can be perceived from the walks they take inside the facility, highlighting an emotional disconnect and the inability of both parties to try and make the effort to understand one another.
However, the climax sees them walking together, showing how love and faith help to reignite hope. Chris leaves behind a packet of his favourite snacks on his bed in the ward, probably as a nugget of hope and strength for the next inhabitant. Chris’ journey from being a closed-off mourning father to a man willing to give himself a second chance is cathartic.
McCarthy deserves a standalone mention due to her stellar job of portraying the grieving Lily — a mother in denial about the loss of her baby. Lily has no time to process her feelings of grief, struck down by Chris’ suicide attempt, and is left in a daze. It is heartbreaking to see her dispose of her daughter’s things and then rub fiercely at the crib marks on the carpet, as if desperately trying to wipe out the grief that tugs at her heart and cripples her, her relationship, and the desire to live on. The only time she is in her element is when she is in the garden, warding off the starlings. Despite their love-hate relationship, the woman gains unbearable strength from the birds. From learning to rekindle her relationship with her husband to deriving unbridled joy saving the injured bird and re-learning the meaning of hope and love, their symbiotic relationship forms the crux of the film.
Kline as the vodka-drinking psychiatrist turned vet, reinstills faith and belief in both their hearts. The film’s overall delicate and sensitive approach towards failing mental health, depression, recuperation and more is devoid of judgement which makes it even more relatable. The unimaginable pain of losing one’s child yet not giving up hope in life is well-portrayed. The act of healing is slow and steady and the drama, steeped in reality, portrays the same quite patiently.
The film is predictable but the poignant reality of the same makes it engaging. The filmmaker does not exaggerate and sticks to an accurate and realistic portrayal of grief, loss and suffering while tying the ends together to form a wholesome and bittersweet ending.