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TIFF 2021: The Starling Review

There’s no one-size-fits-all method of dealing with grief. We all heal at our own pace, in our own ways. You can’t make a loved one’s pain disappear with the right words or some magic pill. These words are the last thing someone wants to hear when they’re caught in despair’s cold black grip. But that doesn’t make this sentiment any less true.

Director Theodore Melfi’s heartfelt drama, The Starling, focuses on a husband and wife trapped in a cycle of grieving. Matt Harris’ poignant script asks the question, how do you save someone from drowning when you can’t keep your own head above water?

Not long ago, Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) and Jack Maynard (Chris O’Dowd) were the picture of bliss. The happy couple lived in a beautiful rural home as they planned for the birth of their daughter.

Flash-forward a year, and their infant daughter has passed away. Overcome with grief, Jack is recovering in a psychiatric clinic. Left to cope by herself, Lilly starts to slowly unravel, so a counsellor recommends meeting with Larry (Kevin Kline), a local therapist-turned vet. Larry is no longer in the therapy business, but he can’t turn away a wounded creature.

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The Starling explores the ways people internalize their pain and get stuck in cycles of despair. It’s a stark reminder nobody is entitled to a happy ending. For Lilly, pursuing bliss becomes a noble battle. Fighting for joy means slaying her inner demons and providing Jack with the support he’s incapable of asking for.

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