The Starling parents guide

The Starling Parent Guide

Powerful performances give this film a depth of emotion that carries the quiet story.

Overall B

Netflix: Melissa McCarthy stars as Lilly, a grief-stricken woman who is frustrated when a noisy starling builds a nest near her home. The bird attacks her and Lilly throws herself into getting rid of the bird, with unexpected results.

Release date September 24, 2021

Violence B-
Sexual Content B
Profanity D
Substance Use C

Why is The Starling rated PG-13? The MPAA rated The Starling PG-13 for thematic material, some strong language, and suggestive material

Run Time: 102 minutes

Parent Movie Review

“Some things are just out of our control. And the sooner you figure out what they are the sooner you can let them go.” This is hard earned wisdom for Lilly Maynard (Melissa McCarthy). Adrift on an ocean of grief, Lilly has spent the year since her young daughter’s death robotically going through the motions, struggling to keep things together but often lost in a fog of distraction. In the meantime, her husband, Jack (Chris O’Dowd), is in an inpatient facility receiving psychiatric care for the despair that has overwhelmed him since the loss of their child.

Credit goes to the screenwriters for not giving Lilly a miraculous cure for her grief. Instead, things slowly start to mend when she handles practical tasks like tackling the overgrown garden. While digging out weeds, she gets dive-bombed by an aggressively territorial bird. As she starts talking to a psychologist turned veterinarian (Kevin Kline), and stumbles through efforts to remove the bird, she gains insight into undeserved pain, arbitrary suffering, and healing.

The Starling is a character-driven drama and thus relies solely on its cast for its success. Thankfully, they’re up to the challenge. I have always appreciated Melissa McCarthy’s comic talents (while deploring her preference for bawdy scripts) but this film gives her a chance to shine in a dramatic role. Her Lilly is deeply wounded and pain seeps through her performance, even when she smiles and insists that everything’s fine. As for Jack, Chris O’Dowd captures his emptiness and inertia; his complete inability to even imagine a world without suffering. Both actors give moving and realistic portrayals of some of the ways people respond to heartbreaking loss. Also starring in the film is Kevin Kline as the idiosyncratic vet and although his role isn’t a comic one, he helps to lift the movie and prevent it from being constantly sorrowful. There’s just one failure here – and that’s the character of Velma (Loretta Devine), one of Jack’s fellow patients. Velma is written as a stereotype: the angry black woman (aka a Sapphire), and she never gets a chance to be a real person. She’s angry, she’s over the top, she’s sassy, she’s a figure of fun. It’s disappointing because the screenwriters can obviously write well rounded characters. They just got lazy here and slide back into a comic racial stereotype for easy laughs.

Given that The Starling is a quiet film, lacking either explosions or spandex-clad superheroes, it’s unlikely to appeal to younger audiences. This is just as well because the movie features mature themes and discussions of suicide and attempted suicide. There are also 30 profanities in the film, including two sexual expletives. While these content issues might disturb some viewers, they pale in the face of the most upsetting aspect of the film: the incomprehensible loss of a child. If you’re looking for a light evening’s entertainment, this isn’t the show for you. But if you want to try to understand what it feels like to be bereaved and how people can live through profound anguish, then this very human story will be worth your time.

Directed by Theodore Melfi. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Timothy Olyphant, Chris O'Dowd, Kevin Kline. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release September 24, 2021. Updated

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The Starling
Rating & Content Info

Why is The Starling rated PG-13? The Starling is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic material, some strong language, and suggestive material

Violence: A child’s death is a critical plot element but isn’t shown on screen. A bird repeatedly dive bombs a woman. A dead bird is seen, the result of eating poisoned seeds. A person attempts suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in a vehicle. A man is restrained after pushing and shoving others. A person rips a vegetable garden apart. A woman hits a bird with a rock and knocks it out. A character considers committing suicide by overdosing on drugs.
Sexual Content:   A dog repeatedly humps a woman’s leg. A woman talks about her dog’s “marbles”. A woman makes embroidery that illustrates a man’s erection. A man and woman kiss.
Profanity: There are just under 30 swear words in the movie, including two sexual expletives, 14 scatological curses, six terms of deity and a handful of crude anatomical terms and minor profanities.
Alcohol / Drug Use:   A main character vapes. A main character holds a glass of wine. A man takes prescription drugs and sometimes pretends to take them but hoards them.

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The Starling Parents' Guide

How do Lilly and Jack heal from their loss? What’s different about the paths they take? Have you ever grieved for the loss of a family member? What helped you recover your equilibrium? How does this help you relate to others who are suffering?

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