The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Digital/DVD] - BLACKBIRD | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review [Digital/DVD] - BLACKBIRD

blackbird review
A terminally ill mother arranges to bring her family together one last time before she dies.


Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Roger Michell

Starring: Mia Wasikowska, Sam Neill, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Rainn Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Bex Taylor-Klaus

blackbird poster





I haven't seen the Danish film Silent Heart but I can't imagine that a European drama about euthanasia is easily palatable to non-festival audiences. Starring a gallery of commercially viable talent, Roger Michell's American remake Blackbird has me curious to seek out the source material. Common wisdom is that the original is always better, but this is a pretty good film on independent terms, and certainly one that easily appeals to a mass audience.


blackbird review

The terminally ill Lily (Susan Sarandon) has made peace with her circumstance. She's gonna die soon but wants to go out on her own terms. Before her assisted suicide, she invites her family to gather, which includes husband Paul (Sam Neill), daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), Jennifer's husband Michael (Rainn Wilson), their son Jonathan (Anson Boon), their daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska), Anna's girlfriend Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and one non-family member, Lilly's old best friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan). Common wisdom is that no congregation can occur without drama.

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And there may be one revelation too many in this story. Beginning with the antagonistic attitude of Anna, who feels like she has no idea who her grandmother really is, the domesticity is consistently interrupted until it begins to resemble a sickly soap opera. A narrative development straight out of Breaking the Waves is the final play before Michell wraps things up, but thankfully the emotional core is still intact for a touching finale, surviving the pretzel-like shape of the difficult family dynamics.


blackbird review

It manages to work because of Michell’s clean formal approach. Most of the film is shot by Mike Eley from the same wide medium angle from which we view the films of Ruben Östlund. Framing multiple actors at the same time, there's little chaos in each shot, allowing us to focus on the most important actions and reactions against the warm glow of the sleek house they inhabit. Furthermore, capturing his actors at a literal arm's length gives Michell less room for the sort of melodrama that can creep in through a close-up, and the cool temperature is assisted by the spare use of music. I appreciate the director not forcing his hand in trying to sentimentalise his film. However, I do wonder if this pragmatic approach to a tear-jerker is directly lifted from Bille August's original film.

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As usual, Sarandon is sublime and earns pathos through her perfectly stated performance as the acerbic, ailing matriarch. Winslet is naturally great as the mother who’s out of touch with her millennial children, and Wasikowska comfortably replays the sort of acerbic youth she was in The Kids Are All Right. The distinction between the three generations of these characters forms a painfully relatable message about how we don’t really speak to our elders as we should, as well as highlighting the disconnect between modern and traditional attitudes. But, to wrap up the notes on casting - for a film with humour in abundance, Rainn Wilson is curiously wasted.


blackbird review

Overall, Blackbird is a pretty good weepy, succeeding on the strengths of its cast and crystalline visuals.

Blackbird is on North American VOD from September 18th, UK Digital September 21st and UK DVD September 28th.




2020 movie reviews