This review was originally written for Blueprint: Review. It was written because Kate Winslet appears in the film and one of the missions of this site is to review every Kate Winslet film. The other Kate Winslet reviews can be found here.
There’s all kinds of films in the world. Films to cheer you up, films to terrify you and get your blood pumping, even dramatic weepies designed to emotionally rip you apart, rendering you unable to function for the rest of the day. There’s a time and place for each of these films, and given just how unprecedented the times we’re living in are, and how these days every waking moment can feel like a never-ending naked slide down the spiralling razor blade of life, I for one am trying to limit my exposure to the more emotionally draining films.
Unfortunately, Blackbird has built its nest firmly amidst the branches of the emotionally draining tree. Susan Sarandon plays Lily, the matriarch of a family gathering to spend the weekend together. Lily suffers from ALS and, with the help of her doctor husband Paul (Sam Neill), she plans to be euthanised at the end of the weekend, after spending it with her daughters (Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska), their partners (Rainn Wilson and Bex Taylor-Klaus), her grandson Jonathan (Anson Boon) and lifelong friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan). Beyond that there isn’t a great deal of plot, it’s more of a chamber piece, watching the characters interact with one another as Lily’s proposed departure grows ever nearer.
There’s a very believable rapport between the cast, in that they often feel very much like a real, lived-in family, each with their own personalities and concerns outside of the issues at hand, but no-one is really stretching themselves. Winslet has been uptight and tense before, Sarandon retains her usual sass, Sam Neill even gets to be a wine connoisseur during the dinner scene, though it’s unclear if he’s sampling his own Two Paddocks products. All the performances are solid from great, reliable actors, but I’d be very surprised if this was bothering anyone in the 2021 awards race.
Story-wise this plays out like a more grounded, less revelatory August: Osage Country, or a more serious It’s Complicated. It’s an all-star cast in a beautiful location, but the plot never wanders too far from the expected, and every scenario seems designed to jerk tears and search souls of both the characters and the viewers. Attempts are made to eschew familiar dramatic tropes (the waning grandparent offering sage advice to their grandchild) but many clichéd paths are still walked along as the film is dragged out for a little longer than it really needed, despite only being 98 minutes.
All that being said, I like all the actors involved and it’s fun just watching them spend time with one another, especially in the more upbeat scenes. Watching Neill and Sarandon dancing in their kitchen, Rainn Wilson trying to chop down a Christmas tree (I’d be shocked if his character doesn’t have a podcast), or Winslet sharing a joint with her son at dinner are all delightful scenes, and in less uncertain times I’m sure I’d be more on board with the film as a whole, it’s just right now, for me, I need a little more positivity from my entertainment.
Choose Life 5/10
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