This calculated tearjerker is heavy on emotional symbolism but offers a showcase for its two impressive lead actors, Melissa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd. In fact, The Starling is totally dependent on McCarthy's believability as a big box store clerk stoically marching on after tragedy, and on her and O'Dowd's ability to carry both the drama and the humor.
McCarthy's deadpan delivery and knack for physical comedy are well-known, but here she's also called on to convey deep emotional trauma, anger, frustration, uncertainty, and more, often in close-up shots while driving or sitting alone at home.
Perhaps best known as the perennial good guy in Bridesmaids, O'Dowd matches her: his slouchy demeanor, cheeky face, and Irish brogue are the outward signs of his droll, despairing character. He has one of the most heartrending scenes in the film, with no spoken lines, when he faces a vital choice alone in his room. Kevin Kline exudes his usual paternal pathos, though it comes as almost a relief when his Dr. Fine admits he doesn't have all the answers either.
The film works hard not to wallow in melancholy, conspicuously weaving the heaviest scenes together
back-to-back with lighter ones. Jack's therapy sessions, for example, are often followed by scenes of Lilly gardening in a helmet or arguing crazily with a bird. An apparently very serious fall off a ladder is oddly played for humor.
Lilly seems to do a lot of driving in this rural setting, perhaps symbolizing the journey she's on -- and with no clear destination at first. Likewise, the symbolism is ripe as she preps a field to replant an abandoned garden. These are just some of the overly obvious choices the film makes to set the mood and explain its characters, ultimately unnecessary considering the intensity of the event at its heart.
The lack of subtlety in the animal analogies is even discussed by the characters ("Real subtle, Larry," Lilly jokes). But tellingly, the birds are actually superfluous to this story of two people trying to start their lives again after unthinkable heartbreak.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.