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the starling movie

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Emily Clark

Movie Review

A little over a year ago, Lilly and Jack lost their daughter, Katie.

Sudden infant death syndrome, they were told.

Unable to cope, Jack winds up in a mental health facility, while Lilly tries in earnest to hold down the fort.

But it’s been a year.

And while no amount of time will ever fully heal the wounds of losing their daughter, Lilly needs Jack to get better. She needs him to come home.

She needs him.

Positive Elements

Lilly and Jack love each other. Before Katie was born, Jack would pack lunches for Lilly with a Hostess snack, saying, “Hostess because I love you the mostest!” After Jack is admitted to New Horizons (a mental health care facility), Lilly drives an hour there and back every Tuesday to visit him for family day. And each time, she brings him a Hostess snack to remind him that she loves him too.

But despite this love, losing Katie broke this married couple and deeply damaged their relationship. In Jack’s case, he longed to join Katie in death. For Lilly, she became so caught up in what was happening with Jack that she couldn’t think about her own emotions.

Which is why Lilly is told by one of the therapists at New Horizons that she needs to see someone as well. Dr. Larry Fine—a former therapist, current veterinarian—is recommended to her.

Dr. Fine’s bedside manner is somewhat lacking. He tends to be blunt with pet owners, frightening them instead of comforting them. And when he starts working with Lilly, she isn’t a fan of his direct communication style.

But we learn that the reason Larry stopped working with people and started working with animals was because people expect answers—answers he couldn’t provide.

However, despite not having the answers, Larry listens to Lilly. He recognizes (and explains) that when something so unspeakably tragic happens (like Katie’s death), people want a reason for it. When they can’t find a reason, they try to place the blame. And ironically enough, both Lilly and Jack blame themselves.

Jack blames himself for oversleeping the morning that Katie died. He believes that if he’d woken up like normal, he could’ve awakened Katie and perhaps saved her. Lilly blames herself for not being enough for Jack. She believes he wanted life to end because life with her wasn’t good enough anymore.

The couple realizes separately that their pain is actually being exasperated by being apart. Jack resents Lilly for not quitting—for never quitting—and trying to move on with life. But he also loves her for it. He decides that he doesn’t want to quit either. Not for Lilly, mind, but with her. He wants to move forward together.

Lilly recognizes that she’s angry with Jack for trying to take himself away from her (both when he tried to take his own life and when he pushed her away after being admitted to the hospital). But she doesn’t want him to quit either. She’s willing to keep going and work through their problems as well.

In the end, Katie is still gone, and that pain will never fully go away. But Jack and Lilly can heal their marriage. They can find ways to move on with their lives without her. And they’ll accomplish that goal by doing it together.

Fine learns a lesson from Lilly as well about the importance of not giving up. He doesn’t return to treating humans, but he does start empathizing more with the owners of his animal patients. He takes the time to sit down with them and to get to know what’s going on in their lives. And this makes him a better vet.

After Lilly causes the death of an animal, she says her actions were wrong, and she buries the creature. She also rushes a bird to Dr. Fine’s office after injuring it; she helps to nurse it back to health even though she knows the bird will continue to antagonize her.

Spiritual Elements

Lilly watches a TV program called The Higher Power; on it, we hear people giving their testimonies, quoting the Bible and praying. A woman offers to visit Lilly with a church pastor. There’s some conversation about birds evolving from dinosaurs.

Sexual Content

Lilly and Jack kiss. A woman embroidering a man on a light switch cover puts that switch where the man’s genitals should go. Someone says she used to “sleep around.” We see a woman in a revealing top. Someone calls Bob Ross “sexy.” When a dog exhibits inappropriate sexual behavior, his owner asks Dr. Fine to “knock his marbles off.”

Violent Content

We learn that Jack was admitted to the hospital after trying to take his own life. Lilly found him in the car, engine running and garage closed. Later, Jack again contemplates taking his life (via overdose), but he chooses not to.

Lilly is repeatedly attacked by a starling in her yard, getting cut on her forehead more than once by the bird’s beak. The bird also causes her to fall off a tall ladder when she tries to investigate the tree where it lives.

Eventually, after being told that extermination is the only solution, Lilly tries to poison the bird and accidentally kills a crow instead. Later, she throws a rock at the starling, injuring it badly.

Lilly almost wrecks her car when she becomes distracted. A woman destroys her garden in frustration. Jack has to be physically restrained after shoving another man to the ground.

Crude or Profane Language

We hear the f-word twice and the s-word about 20 times. There are also uses of “a–hole,” “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused eight times, and someone exclaims, “Sweet tiny Jesus!”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Jack takes medication daily at New Horizons and is asked to show his tongue as proof that he swallowed the pills after each dose. However, he hides the medicine under his tongue and spits it out when he gets back to his room each day, hoarding it.

Lilly is shocked to see Jack vaping, since he hates vapes. He claims it’s because of peer pressure and the variety of flavors available, but it’s clear that it’s because of his depression.

Dr. Fine drinks alcohol (offscreen) just before an emergency surgery on a bird. A woman on TV says she used to be an addict. Lilly says a TV program’s name sounds like a marijuana shop. She is also scolded after making a joke about meth.

Other Negative Elements

We get a heart-wrenching peek at the sadness that Jack and Lilly are each facing. Lilly is often distracted at work—which her manager is unsympathetic to—and eventually gets demoted after pricing every item at 5 cents without realizing what she was doing. Behind closed doors, we see tears shed every time she sees something of Katie’s. We witness the difficulty she faces in deciding what to do with Katie’s old room.

Jack admits that he’s struggled with depression—going to doctors and taking medication—since his 20s. His therapist isn’t fooled by his sarcastic remarks or lies about sleeping well.

A dog urinates and a bird defecates. A woman creates a sculpture of the “poop emoji.”

Someone says Mozart gave his pet bird a funeral but refused to attend his own father’s funeral the next week. A woman at New Horizons shouts loudly at her daughter-in-law, claiming the other woman turned her son against her.

Conclusion

It’s one of the most heartbreaking things that can ever happen: losing a child. And neither Jack nor Lilly handle it well.

Jack says that he imagines Katie crying every morning when he wakes up. He imagines getting out of bed and going to her, saying, “That precious moment of agony is the highlight of my day.”

Lilly needs her husband. But Jack can’t be the man he used to be anymore. He isn’t sure how he fits into Lilly’s life. He’s struggling with depression, and he doesn’t know how to pull himself out of it.

Jack needs his wife. But Lilly is angry at him. She needs to be allowed to process her own thoughts and feelings about the loss of their daughter. And she needs to know that Jack isn’t going to quit on her again.

Yet somehow, through their brokenness, they realize that they aren’t ready to give up. They don’t want to quit. Not on each other and not on life. Like the starling that continues to antagonize Lilly, they’re meant to live life together. And though it won’t bring Katie back or take away the pain of her loss, knowing that they don’t have to do it alone makes it easier to move forward.

This could be a hard film for any viewers who have suffered the loss of a child. Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd give performances that are somehow delicate and powerful at the same time. You feel Jack and Lilly’s loss. You can sense how close they both are to totally losing it. You empathize with Lilly’s anger and Jack’s depression. But these strong emotions are also what makes the ending so riveting. You can practically feel their wounds being healed. And there’s an overwhelming peace that comes with knowing it’s all going to be OK.

The language here is often harsh, we witness a man’s attempt at suicide, a woman is cruel towards animals (though later apologetic and remorseful towards her actions) and there is some sexual innuendo.

But there’s an important lesson as well. “Some things are just out of our control. The sooner you figure out what they are, the faster you can let them go,” Lilly says. She knows that she’ll never have an answer for her daughter’s death. She knows that she and Jack will always feel that loss. But she also knows that it doesn’t have to be the end. They can start over and learn how to live without their little girl. And they’ll do it together.

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Emily Clark
Emily Clark

Emily studied film and writing when she was in college. And when she isn’t being way too competitive while playing board games, she enjoys food, sleep, and indulging in her “nerdom,” which is the collective fan cultures of everything she loves, such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.