The Starling review – toe-curlingly embarrassing Melissa McCarthy drama

Netflix’s strange, sentimental film about a grieving woman who befriends a bird is a wildly misjudged mess

This bizarre sentimental dramedy is fatuous and phoney in every particular: a quite extraordinary festival of gibberish. Every implausible scene, every unconvincing character, every contrived dollop of symbolism, every toe-curlingly misjudged and unearned emotional climax seems as if it has been concocted in some secret bio-warfare lab for assaulting your mind with pure, toxic nonsense.

Melissa McCarthy, in unfunny mode, plays Lily, a woman who supposedly works a humble job in a supermarket but seems also to live in a vast house in the country with a front porch and plenty of land for growing vegetables, often bathed in a golden sunset. She is married to Jack, played by Chris O’Dowd – unthreateningly warm and rumpled and nice. They have a baby daughter who a year previously evidently succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome, although the exact cause of death is never discussed and never made plain. In a grownup film with common sense, this deeply shocking theme would be treated with respect. Here it seems to be the occasion for some sad-yet-touching personal growth.

Cutesy, quirky Jack is now in a psychiatric facility after an attempt to take his own life and Lily is left back at her colossal, honey-coloured ranch living her life as best she can and visiting Jack once a week in his lite version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. In her job she is chivvied and bullied by her boss – a terrible waste of Timothy Olyphant, incidentally. And she has something new to contend with: there is a certain CGI starling who is forever swooping into her garden and hassling her.

But after being more or less ordered to get some therapy herself, from a certain Dr Larry Fine recommended by her husband’s facility, Lily discovers that this adorable man, heart-sinkingly played by Kevin Kline and just as cutesy and quirky as everyone and everything else, has in fact quit the psychotherapy business and retrained as a vet! Huh? What? Excuse me?

Well, these two professions combine in one, as Larry takes an interest in Lily’s starling (though without ever commenting on its clunkingly obvious metaphorical quality) and in Lily personally as they become friends.

The Starling really is so staggeringly peculiar and bad that it almost has some value as a kind of Dadaist event, a synthesis of non-meaning, a randomly generated heart-warmer movie that has come chuntering out of the printer as a result of an experimental computer program. Director Theodore Melfi once upon a time gave us the very decent film, Hidden Figures, about the unsung women of colour that were involved in America’s space programme. That was an emotional movie whose emotions made sense. This, on the other hand, is a baffling waste of everyone’s time.

  • The Starling is screening at the Toronto film festival and will be available on Netflix on 24 September

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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