Can we do a mass intervention on behalf of Melissa McCarthy’s career?
Yes, you can’t blame her for pulling on that grey Ghostbuster uniform back in 2016, but so many of her recent choices have proven, well, disastrous. The last year alone found in her two D.O.A. comedies – “Superintelligence” and “Thunder Force.”
Now, she’s front and center in “The Starling,” destined to grace more than a few “Worst of 2021” lists, including this critic’s.
McCarthy stars as Lilly, a happily married woman prepping for her first child with husband Jack (Chris O’Dowd). A short time later we revisit the couple, now apart following the death of their daughter, Katie.
Jack is living in a psychiatric facility following a suicide attempt. Lilly goes through the motions, poorly, at the supermarket where she stocks shelves. Her boss is played by the great Timothy Olyphant of “Justified” fame, overplaying his hayseed nature to a cringe-worthy level.
Their lives have been shattered, and understandably so. It’s how they attempt to reclaim their marriage, and any sense of happiness, that powers the dramedy.
“The Starling” isn’t “Bridesmaids” or “The Heat,” but the film consistently trots out moments made to make us smile. Mission rarely accomplished. The tone, set by “Hidden Figures” director Theodore Melfi, is wink-wink, nudge-nudge, all balanced against the couple’s harrowing ordeal.
Suffice to say that formula would tax any director’s talents, in addition to his excellent cast including Kevin Kline. He should have leaned into his legendary nickname, Kevin Decline, this time ’round.
McCarthy and O’Dowd suggest a real couple in crisis, and each has a scene or two capturing the intensity of their grief. Otherwise they’re struggling against the cornball material, doing all they can to maintain their dignity.
We might need a new Oscar category for Best Ability to Rise Above Tepid Material.
— The Christian Post (@ChristianPost) September 17, 2021
And then we have the title character, a feisty bird which can’t stop harassing Lilly as she attempts to grow a personal healing garden.
The bird attacks her over and again, a clumsy metaphor which overstays its welcome by a good 30 minutes. It might be the hoariest plot device in modern memory. It does give McCarthy, a pro at comedic pratfalls, the chance to fall off ladders and charge the bird wearing an oversized football helmet.
It’s never funny, though, just pathetic.
Kline shows what a movie star can do with a terribly conceived role. He plays Larry Fine (get it??), a shrink turned veterinarian who uses both skills sets on Lilly and her bird frenemy. Every Kline line reading is melodic, and he makes you wish Hollywood put him to better use, and fast.
It’s certainly not in making “The Starling” fly. No actor has the chops to do the impossible.
HiT or Miss: “The Starling” means well, but its combination of sorrow and yuks is downright disastrous.