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TIFF 2021 Review: The Starling – “Melissa McCarthy gives a mournful, determined and heartfelt performance”

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A couple grieving the loss of their infant daughter struggle to reconnect with other another.

A whimsical opening showcases a starling attempting to provide for its family while confronted by cars and predator birds.  It then transitions to Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack (Chris O’Dowd) preparing a bedroom for their infant daughter.  A time cut reveals an empty crib, Lilly walking around as if in a daydream and Jack in a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt.  The couple have been devastated by the death of their firstborn; while their family has been torn apart a starling aggressively protects the area around a tree in their front yard where a nest of hatchlings is situated.

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As with her onscreen family, Melissa McCarthy is the one that holds everything together for the story with a mournful, determined and heartfelt performance.  Coming in second is the starling which is equally determined and almost psychotic in its aggressiveness.  It is not easy to make such a tiny character have a strong presence but the combination of creature effects, cinematography, and reactions of McCarthy makes this possible.  The bird thematically mirrors what is happening with his human neighbours as it is determined to protect its family.

Theodore Melfi is able to mix humour with drama to explore human suffering naturalistically but is not entirely able to avoid melodrama.  What Melfi does have a complete handle on is incorporating music to heighten the emotional impact of scenes.  Kevin Kline appears to be as disinterested as his cinematic persona and in the process comes across rather flat.  Chris O’Dowd never completely comes across as being believable despite using witty one-liners to deflect the help of others.  The best member of the supporting cast is Skyler Gisondo who portrays a work colleague of McCarthy; he accomplishes what usually Kline could do which is to be genuinely funny and understanding.

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 9-18, 2021, and for more information visit tiff.net.    

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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