By: Jessica Goddard
Despite its inexplicable first-rate cast, Blackbird is an eye-rollingly disappointing take on the terminal illness drama from director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, My Cousin Rachel). Screenwriter Christian Torpe paints with a bland palette of stock characters to slap together a narrative infested with clichés and unnatural one-liners, leading nowhere of interest.
Susan Sarandon stars as Lily, a plucky grandmother gradually losing control of her body to ALS. Her husband, Paul (Sam Neill) happens to be a doctor, and knows that Lily only has a matter of weeks before her condition deteriorates significantly and destroys her quality of life. So, Lily invites their two daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska) to stay the weekend at their significantly large, modern, and beach-adjacent Connecticut home one last time before she intentionally poisons herself, ending her life on her own terms. Of course, with the grown daughters come the partners and teenage son and, wouldn’t you know, oodles of unresolved tension between the older, nagging Jennifer and the younger, troubled Anna as well. Not to mention the uncomfortable presence of Lily’s oldest friend, Liz (Lindsay Duncan).
Between its technically beautiful cinematography, melancholic score, and forced dialogue, Blackbird feels a bit like a simulation; like the exact product you’d get if you tasked Artificial Intelligence bots with watching 1000 hours of family dramas and then challenged them to spit out their own movie using the prompt “fatal disease”. This characterization is probably most fitting with regard to the twist in the third act, which literally left me saying, out loud, to myself: “What? This is so weird.”
Blackbird has its moments when it’s not trying so damn hard to be poignant – while emphasizing that Lily is one of those cool grandmas! – but ultimately, it has nothing to say. The story, the characters, where it all goes, are about as refreshing as a swig from a saltshaker.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod