Listen: Reel Dialogue’s Russ Matthews reviews ‘The Starling’ with Laura Bennett
Melissa McCarthy is really having a moment. Between 2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me? (for which she was Oscar nominated), Nine Perfect Strangers and now The Starling, Melissa’s proving comedians crossing over into drama can be a powerful exchange.
The Starling is about expectant parents Lily and Jack (Chris O’Dowd), who soon after giving birth to their daughter Katie lose her to SIDS. The grief is too much for Jack, who’s admitted to a mental hospital, leaving Lily to process both the absence of her daughter and the resulting relationship challenges with her husband.
Just as Lily’s deciding to confront her own grief, a combative starling takes up residence in the garden of her country home and, as she sets out to “give him a swift end”, he inadvertently helps her process the pain she’s been grappling with.
It may be a simplistic view of grief to think a bird can help you overcome it, but really what The Starling shows is a problem doesn’t always have to be tackled head on.
What The Starling shows is a problem doesn’t always have to be tackled head on.
The traditional route of counselling, medial care and “Mum group” support doesn’t work for Lily, but talking about the menacing starling, the way she feels “attacked” by it, and how she musters up some grit by staring it down in her veggie patch are all the mechanics she needs to find healing.
When any of us attempt to recover from grief, sometimes it’s not so much that we need to talk about the loss we faced, but the feelings of anger, uncertainty and sorrow it gave us. The Starling validates that experience and, in fact, encourages us to embrace it.
Don’t get me wrong, The Starling isn’t all gloomy and heavy – you can’t see Melissa McCarthy fall off a ladder or watch late night televangelists in her gumboots and not laugh – but it does a great job of showing how sadness and hope can coexist.