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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Blackbird movie review: the bell tolls, ever so tastefully

Blackbird yellow light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

The to-die-for cast can’t quite save this melodrama from its trite obviousness, in which rage and grief are matters of tasteful, upscale lifestyle. But they at least make it passingly watchable.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
male director, male screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

The to-die-for cast and their not-unexpectedly engaging performances don’t quite save melodrama Blackbird from its trite obviousness, but they at least make it passingly watchable. If only just barely.

Susan Sarandon’s (A Bad Moms Christmas) Lily is dying, you see, and before she goes, she invites her family to gather round her and devoted hubby Sam Neill (Peter Rabbit) for one final time. So here arrives — at the family’s lush and graceful oceanside estate — favored daughter Kate Winslet (Collateral Beauty) with hubby Rainn Wilson (The Meg) and teen son Anson Boon. Here arrives messed-up daughter Mia Wasikowska (Alice Through the Looking Glass), with on-again, off-again, apparently on-again girlfriend Bex Taylor-Klaus (Dumplin’). Also in attendance — for reasons that are mysterious and suspect only in a script written by a man — is Lindsay Duncan (Birdman), as Lily’s BFF. (This is a remake of screenwriter Christian Torpe’s 2014 Danish film Silent Heart.) As you will be unsurprised to learn, Lily’s imminent departure from this plane of existence is not to be without drama.

Blackbird Sam Neill Kate Winslet

“Dad, Nancy Meyers called. She asked if she can have the kitchen once Mom’s dead.”

Thankfully, director Roger Michell (Tea with the Dames) doesn’t oversell the histrionics; he merely lets his excellent cast do their level best with them. Still, I’m not sure there’s a single moment in this weekend chamber piece that is unanticipated, including the big “revelation” that threatens to derail Lily’s hoped-for gentle going into that good night. The fact that this is from, in part, a production company apparently proud to call itself “Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment” is the perfect indication of Blackbird’s tone: Rage and grief are reduced to a flowery greeting card dishing out easy platitudes, and Lily’s confrontation with her own mortality and determination to go out on her own terms are treated as matters of lifestyle, with a tasteful, upscale serenity that won’t clash with the quietly elegant carpets.

Blackbird is the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ Movie of the Week for September 25th. I could not endorse it, but for a counterpoint to my review, read the comments from other AWFJ members on why the film deserves this honor.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2020’s other new films.

yellow light 3 stars

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Blackbird (2020) | directed by Roger Michell
US/Can release: Sep 18 2020 (VOD same day)
UK/Ire release: Sep 21 2020 (VOD)

MPAA: rated R for language, some drug use and brief sexual material
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, drug misuse, suicide references, terminal illness theme)

viewed at home on PR-supplied physical media or screening link

IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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