Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 26, 2020)
Man, 2020 sure has been a downer of a year. We could all use something cheerful and uplifting, so let’s turn to Blackbird, a movie about… a woman with a terminal illness who plans to kill herself.
Is it 2021 yet?
Suffering from ALS, Lily (Susan Sarandon) decides she doesn’t want to fight anymore. Along with husband Paul (Sam Neill), she goes to her beach house and summons the extended family for one last hurrah.
This doesn’t offer a total celebration, though, as not all involved agree with Lily’s decision. Add to that a mix of unresolved issues that leap to the fore and Lily’s goodbye turns into a tense situation.
As planned suicides are wont to do.
No, I don’t mean that as a judgment on the ethics of the movie’s situations. I lean toward Lily’s “go out with dignity” attitude, but I understand the arguments on both sides.
My bigger issue with Blackbird stems from its semi-trivializing of the subject matter. While obviously possessed of massive room for natural drama, the movie uses its theme as little more than an excuse for stale melodrama.
Why do movies like this always focus on this kind of over-educated, New Yorker wet dream of a family? Not that clans like this don’t experience tragedy, but damn! It’d be nice to see this sort of tale from the POV of people who aren’t outcasts from a Woody Allen movie.
The biggest problem with Blackbird stems less from the cliché nature of the characters and more the trite stabs at drama – on those occasions where it bothers. Not that I expect a real plot from Blackbird, of course, as it brings an experience more thematic than narrative-based.
As such, I won’t knock its loose push toward the inevitable, with an emphasis on character interactions. However, I will criticize the dull, predictable nature of these roles and the tedious manner in which Blackbird ambles through cliché revelations and interactions.
Blackbird wants to offer something deep and philosophical, as it grinds to a halt so it can lecture us on various topics. We get “lessons” about how to life live unafraid of death, assisted suicide and a mix of other areas. All these feel pedantic and condescending.
Perhaps if Blackbird manifested more interesting characters or relationships, these elements would matter less. However, it renders all these factors inert, as we lurch from one predictable dramedy scene to another, each less believable and compelling than the last.
Blackbird does come with a strong cast, as in addition to Sarandon and Neill, we find Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, Rainn Wilson and others. All seem fine, though they struggle to overcome the trite screenplay.
Somewhere buried in this mess, we might excavate a decent drama. Unfortunately, the end result seems uncreative and bland.