There is a scene in “The Starling,” Melissa McCarthy’s maudlin new study of grief and ornithology, where a psychiatrist-turned-vet (that’s the kind of movie this is) tells Lilly (McCarthy), whose husband has spent almost a year in a psychiatric care home, that starlings “are different from other birds. They build a nest together. They’re just not meant to exist in the world alone, on their own.”
“That’s real subtle stuff,” she replies sarcastically but in truth, his remark is subtle compared to the rest of this well-meaning but ham-fisted movie.
Small town supermarket employee Lilly and her school teacher husband Jack (Chris O’Dowd) lives were changed when their baby daughter Kate passed away unexpectedly. Grief strikes each differently. Lilly looks forward, while Jack breaks down and checks into a mental health facility. Left alone, Lilly turns to tending her garden where a rogue starling attacks her every time she ventures outside.
Seeking guidance, she talks to Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline) the psychiatrist-turned-vet reluctantly who councils her on grief and bird problems. As her relationship with the starling changes, so does Jack’s situation with his psychiatrist Dr. Manmohan (Ravi Kapoor) and the couple take steps toward reconciliation.
“The Starling” isn’t the first movie in recent memory to use a bird as a metaphor. “Penguin Bloom” covered similar territory last year and movies like “The Thin Red Line,” “Ladyhawke” and “Black Narcissus” have used birds as an emblem of freedom. It’s too bad that the CGI bird in “The Starling” doesn’t inspire the same kind of sense of wonder as it does in those other movies. As it is, the bird’s flitting and flirting only adds to the muddled feel of the story.
A strange mix of heartfelt drama and slapstick comedy, “The Starling” relies on very likable actors to try and bring a sense of balance to the material but not even McCarthy, Kline and O’Dowd can bend this mishmash of tones into a cohesive whole.