Melissa McCarthy plays Lilly Maynard in Theodore Melfi’s The Starling. This reminds me, like many films, that everyone has their own version of hardships. So much so that her coworkers (Timothy Olyphant, Laura Harrier, and Skyler Grisondo) are starting to notice. Lilly recently lost her baby, a setback that her husband Jack (Chris O’Dowd) seems to be mourning for more than she does. So he checks himself into a facility, sharing it with another woman (Loretta Devine) who has her own problems. Both are under the care of well meaning staff (including Daveed Diggs).
Another staff member recommends for Lilly to see someone before her own psychological needs gets worse. As it turns out, that psychiatrist, Larry Fine (Kevin Kline), quit that business to be a veterinarian, running a clinic with a nurse (Rosalind Chao). She inadvertently pulls him back into mental health but not in a straightforward way. Her needs align with Larry’s old and new line of work, since she has the titular starling bother her while she’s gardening. After all, she needs that garden so she can heal.
I already tweeted about The Starling when it screened for critics during TIFF, making a joke about Kline’s joke delivery. There are enough rules in movies about your yearly film festival entry where a woman mourns a child’s death. And I don’t know in what order they come in, but the most logical rule in using that subject matter into a dramedy is to not oversell the jokes. McCarthy has the occasional misstep into going over the top in comedies. But her own work here and, of all people, Melfi’s direction, tones her down. The movie isn’t just doing that balancing act of dramedy through its all star cast that includes . It also does it through its art direction. This movie is about animals, and there are a lot of that on display here without making the movie quirky.
Melfi, as a whole, transitions into his movie’s different tones. A quiet scene can have its disruptions, and the characters, human or otherwise, can be the bad guy and the good guy. And those roles switch, and the bad guy realizes that he’s a bad guy, just like in people in the real world do. I can’t speak for the animals, of course. It’s also about bad coping mechanisms and bad psychiatry even if those psychiatrists don’t intend to be bad. This movie pretty much sums up the contemporary American psyche, which it displays through its subtle visuals. There are the pets and the fields that Lilly drive through to visit Jack once a week. And of course, there’s the Bud Light, which, as offensive as that is, adds to the movie’s authentic feel.
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: Comedy, Drama
- Release Date: 9/12/2021
- Directed by: Theodore Melfi
- Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Daveed Diggs, Kevin Kline, Laura Harrier, Loretta Devine, Melissa McCarthy, Rosalind Chao, Skyler Gisondo, Timothy Olyphant
- Produced by: Chris Parker, Dylan Sellers, Kim Quinn, Theodore Melfi
- Written by: Matthew Harris
- Studio: Boies/Schiller Film Group, Entertainment One, Goldenlight Films, Limelight