Review: Blackbird — Movies for the Rest of Us with Bill Newcott

In lesser hands, Blackbird would rank little higher than your standard issue Hallmark Channel movie. But the entire cast hurls itself into this sentimental stew with such abandon you come away unexpectedly sated.

Rainn Wilson as Michael, Sam Neill as Paul, Bex Taylor-Klaus as Chris, Mia Wasikowska as Anna, Lindsay Duncan as Liz, Susan Sarandon as Lily, and Anson Boon as Jonathan. Blackbird arrives in theaters and on demand on September 18, 2020 from Screen Media. (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh, Courtesy of Screen Media)

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Blackbird

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

Rating: R

Stars: Susan Sarandon, Sam Neill, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, Rainn Wilson, Lindsay Duncan

Writer: Christian Thorpe

Director: Roger Michell

In Theaters

Blackbird, the story of a terminally ill woman (Susan Sarandon) summoning her family for one last weekend together, doesn’t take us anywhere we haven’t been before — but with a cast that boasts 12 Oscar, 13 Golden Globe and 5 Emmy nominations among them, it’s one first-class ride.

Matriarch Lily (Sarandon) is suffering from one of those undisclosed movie illness that is progressively but rapidly weakening her body. Right now she’s having trouble walking and one arm is useless, but as more than one character observes, “She’s not so bad.” Lily is bad enough, however, that she and her physician hubby Paul (Sam Neill, whose piercing eyes nearly match Sarandon’s in laser-like intensity) have decided she should end it all now, while she can still lift her own glass of hemlock (actually, phenobarbital).

But first, of course, there must be a final, not-so-fun family weekend at Lily and Paul’s plush seaside home — for all movies about life and death must take place by the water.

The kids arrive one by one. Here comes Jennifer (Kate Winslet), the “good” girl who has spent her entire life desperately trying to measure up to her mother’s expectations — and projecting those same unreasonable goals onto her son Jonathan (Anson Boon). Jennifer has a nebbish husband (The Office’s Rainn Wilson) who is a font of historical and scientific trivia but clueless when it comes to making actual human connections.

Next comes Anna (Mia Wasikowska) with her girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus) in tow. Anna is immediately confronted with questions about why she almost never has contact with the rest of the family. Don’t worry — we’ll get the answer soon enough.

And finally there’s Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily and Paul’s oldest and closest friend. Just how close? Patience. That particularly juicy reveal will have to wait until just before Lily’s fatal gulp.

For reasons known only to Lily, the weekend must include a non-chronological celebration of Christmas, complete with presents and a freshly chopped-down Christmas tree. Unfortunately, Lily’s Christmas soon devolves into a high-stakes version of Frank Costanza’s Festivus — with an emphasis on the traditional Airing of Grievances.

Director Roger Michell (Notting Hill, Hyde Park on the Hudson) is just the guy to corral all this histrionic star power. He gives each cast member ample time to strut their stuff in the service of a cluttered script that bristles with long-simmering family conflicts — all standing patiently in line, waiting to be tackled one-by-one as the film’s brisk hour-and-a-half proceeds apace.

In lesser hands, Blackbird (the meaning of the title is, to my knowledge, never really addressed) would rank little higher than your standard issue high-calorie, low-protein Hallmark Channel movie. But the entire cast hurls itself into this sentimental stew with such abandon you come away from Lily’s farewell party unexpectedly sated.

Just don’t drink the digestif.

Featured image: Rainn Wilson as Michael, Sam Neill as Paul, Bex Taylor-Klaus as Chris, Mia Wasikowska as Anna, Lindsay Duncan as Liz, Susan Sarandon as Lily, and Anson Boon as Jonathan. Blackbird arrives in theaters and on demand on September 18, 2020 from Screen Media. (Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh, Courtesy of Screen Media)

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Comments

  1. ‘Blackbird’ isn’t really getting all that great of an endorsement here, Bill. You’re being honest and that’s what we want in a review. Just the fact it’s NOT about a very marginally talented comedian/singer who got lucky and essentially committed suicide with drugs, is a plus right there!

    Susan Sarandon CAN be very good if she gets/picks good roles. So often I think with actors they must REALLY need the money, and she’s far from alone. Just look at the poor choices Nicole Kidman and Michelle Pfeiffer have made over the years; my God. I guess as long as the check is the right amount and the name spelled correctly, you learn to acquire a taste for the distasteful, and move on to hopefully something better. In waaaaay over-priced California where most of them live, it’s ONLY about the money honey and not losing everything. We know that.

    ‘Blackbird’ centers around death. It’s spot-on perfect for 2020.

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