At some point, you’ll be an amateur to loss, but eventually everyone gains expert status. If you think you’re immune, you aren’t. This is something director Theodore Melfi banks on with his new film The Starling, a dramedy in which parents Lilly and Jack Maynard are grappling with grief from losing their baby daughter Katie to SIDS. Starring Melissa McCartney and Chris O’Dowd, The Starling works the extended metaphor of Lilly’s inability to control a bird in her garden that repeatedly attacks her while protecting its nest as a reference to the grieving parents’ inability to deal with their sadness. The film works and reworks that metaphor and others to such an exhaustive degree that it might as well be the audience members getting dive-bombed à la Tippi Hedren in The Birds.

The story starts with the happy couple painting Katie’s room. Moments, or rather nearly a year later, their fortunes have shifted dramatically. Katie is dead, Jack is in a mental hospital, and Lilly is left working her thankless job as manager of the local supermarket and keeping the home fires burning, as it were. She too is facing, or rather not facing her loss in a myriad of ways, like giving most of their furniture away, or rage-mowing their lawn. It’s her yard work that attracts the starling, who flies right at her, nicking her in the forehead. On a referral, she makes an appointment with Dr. Larry Fine (the always wonderful Kevin Kline), a grief psychiatrist who, for reasons never explained, has left that field to become a veterinarian. After a brief but pointed first meeting where Dr. Fine seems to give voice to her suffering, Lilly just starts showing up at Larry’s office and home at wildly inappropriate times expecting help. At Lilly’s house, the war between her and the bird continues to escalate, and she is no closer to facing her loss. Meanwhile, Jack is checking his meds, clearly with plans to overdose when he’s built up enough for a lethal dose. Lilly visits him every week, but she can’t so much as say Katie’s name without Jack walking away. How will they ever deal with this loss and move on together?

For almost two hours I kept waiting for the dialogue to go deep enough that it might fully connect with parents who struggle with the loss of a child. There are certainly moments that ring true and feel like they’re building towards something, but then the movie goes back to montages with warm fuzzy music, and obtuse metaphors about dealing with, or not dealing with sadness. Lilly’s garden is growing, but she’s still sad, so she yanks the plants out, then the starling starts dive-bombing her again, but it’s in order to protect the babies.

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