Toronto International Film Festival 2021 Review: The Starling

Written by Taylor Baker

10/100

Theodore Melfi’s long awaited feature film follow up to 2016’s Hidden Figures is a an schlocky melodrama with paper thin characters and paper thin ideas. Melfi reteams with Melissa McCarthy who plays Lilly Maynard. A grieving mother whose child one day doesn’t wake up. Her husband Jack played by Chris O’Dowd checks himself into an institution after his wife wakes up to find he’s attempted suicide.

Along the way there’s a CGI bird, that begins incessantly attacking McCarthy whenever she goes outside at home, on her way to work, or just to garden. Part of the film is spent figuring out a dastardly way to deal with the pesky starling, but each plan always ends with McCarthy holding back and opting not to go forward, or regretting the decision she’d made. Over loud composition forces emotion whenever the occasion arises, which is often. The Starling serves as Matt Harris’s first attempt at a feature screenplay and while it hits familiar narrative beats it lacks personal intrigue, we’re always an arms length away from our characters rather than in lockstep. Watching their emotions rather than feeling them.

Toronto International Film Festival 2021

McCarthy’s Lilly interplays with the Kevin Kline’s veterinarian/therapist Larry, who while clever in his moments reinforcements that The Starling is fanciful and entirely unreal. Timothy Olyphant, Daveed Diggs, and Skyler Gisondo round out the significant supporting roles as a Grocery Store Manager, Art Therapist, and Grocery Clerk respectively. Each of these players seems forced into the narrative to an awkward level of neither being significant nor briefly shown. Rather they’re in the familiar uncanny valley of, “We got great actors look! And please ignore that we don’t know how to use them.”

Ultimately The Starling doesn’t sing or even warble. It stumbles slumping laboriously through the genre conventions of melodrama. Loss eating up every inch of the narrative without ever really feeling sad. Leaning on a CGI bird for Melissa’s character arc, as she emerges to a more outspoken partner while O’Dowd is away. The Starling isn’t even interesting in failings, not only unoriginal, but uninspired. As too many of these recent Netflix Original Film offerings are.

The Starling Trailer

The Starling was viewed as part of 2021 edition of the Toronto International Film Festival and is currently streaming on Netflix.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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