Lilly and Jack Maynard are going through hell. Their baby girl died about a year ago, and Jack (Chris O’Dowd) has suffered a break down, attempted suicide, and has been hanging out in a psychiatric hospital ever since, unable to shake his depression. His wife Lilly (Melissa McCarthy) gardens. She works too, and commutes to visit her husband, and takes care of the house, and generally does her best to get on with a life that imploded around her.
The Starling is about finding that little spark, that one reason to keep going when everything feels impossible, even if it means leaving everything else, or someone else, behind.
Melissa McCarthy does wonderful work as a childless mother, an almost widow, a woman who is dangerously untethered but deprived of the usual expressions of grief. With her husband casting himself as primary mourner, Lilly’s left to grasp at the leftovers, never one to ask for much. Yet she, too, is in pain. And that pain always manifests itself one way or another. Nothing stays buried forever. But with the help of an aggressive bird and a sagacious veterinarian (Kevin Kline), Lilly is reminded that all we need is a little hope. Hope is everywhere, it can be so small, tiny even, found sometimes in the strangest and most unexpected of places, but the trick is: you have to be open to it.
Director Theodore Melfi takes on the greatest loss that we know as humans: that of a child. We can intuitively understand that such a loss opens up a sink hole of sadness, but unless we’ve been sucked down ourselves, it’s impossible to truly understand its depths. What’s more, we don’t have any practical advice for pulling someone out. It must be terrifying to be down there, and even scarier when a couple falls down separate holes. But despite this heaviest of topics, The Starling has an uplifting momentum, thanks in part to a wonderful cast, and of course the indominable spirit of woman.
The Starling is an official TIFF 2021 selection.
It is scheduled to be released in a limited theatre run on September 17, 2021, prior to streaming on Netflix on September 24, 2021.
Devour! is our bucket list film festival. When we cover a big film festival like TIFF, we often go hungry, meals replaced by the crumbly remains of a granola bar fishes out of the bottom of my tote. So imagine our delight when we heard about Devour!, a festival that pairs food and film. As lovers of both, we have resolved to one day travel to beautiful Wolfville, Nova Scotia to partake in what I’m sure can’t help but be a joyous event. However, since that wasn’t in the cards this year, the lovely people of the Devour! film festival have provided us with a virtual hybrid, so that for the first time ever, those of us even outside of Nova Scotia can indulge in a unique festival with strong programming.
Feast of the Seven Fishes is about a big Italian family preparing – guess what – a traditional Feast of Seven Fishes. It’s Christmas Eve and the whole family gathers to participate and partake. This year’s a little special because young Tony (Skyler Gisondo) is bringing a date – a non-Italian date.
Almost every culture celebrates holidays with food and feasts (or, conversely, with a lack of them). Family recipes are passed down from generation to generation to preserve culture and tradition. I remember being in my grandmother’s kitchen, learning how to make her perfect, flaky pie crust, used for any number of recipes including French-Canadian recipes for tourtière and straight-up sugar pie (incidentally, my grandmother also gave out sucre à la Crème for Halloween, a maple-flavoured, crumbly fudge). At Christmas a Bûche de Noël would always be the centrepiece of our table, even if everyone preferred my grandmother’s flawless apple pie for dessert. And even my mother, an avowed non-baker, would whip up gateau chomeur, a humble dessert, once in a while, and for dinner, a pâté chinois that still haunts me.
Food is an opportunity to gather. In Tony’s family, it is largely the men who prepare fish on Christmas Eve. They start days in advance, soaking and resoaking the fish though inevitably someone will always complain that it wasn’t soaked enough. Food is an excuse to reminisce. Mom usually made it best, and her way is still the only way. Food is a tool for teaching each other about what we value and what we believe. Some observe special diets, or stay away from meat on Fridays. Some people eat ham on Christmas instead of turkey, others roast suckling pig or goose. And food says something about us, about our family. On the holidays, I usually bring dessert, because I like to make things as pretty as they are delicious. One of my sisters brings an appetizer, because we like to snack. And another brings the cheese plate, because she can’t cook and we all know it.
Tony’s dad is busy working in the butcher shop, but his uncle Carmine (Ray Abruzzo) and uncle Frankie (Joe Pantoliano) introduce the new non-Italian girlfriend Beth (Madison Iseman) to their culture and their family by telling her all the stories of past Christmas Eves. No family member is spared embarrassment when the uncles are drinking and reminiscing. When finally it’s time to eat, the whole family gathers around a table groaning with food and stretched to its limit and possibly even extended with other tables and mismatched chairs to accommodate one and all. There is not a grandmother on earth who’s most fervent wish isn’t to have her whole family gathered around a single table. Food is passed, wine is shared, conversation shouted across the table. Perhaps a toast is made, an absent loved one remembered, a prayer given, or a moment of gratitude observed. Several generations of family members young and old sit elbow to elbow, the lefties always throwing a wrench into things.
Tony’s family has specific customs and unique recipes, but changes are you’ll find something to relate to in a film like this, a film about family and holidays and time spent together. Writer-director Robert Tinnell shares a piece of himself with this film, but he also uses food as a universal symbol for how and why and when we gather. Tinnel draws uniformly wonderful performances out of a stacked cast including Paul Ben-Victor and Lynn Cohen. The film does indeed feel like a boisterous family gathering, and we feel welcome at their table. There’s an air of bonhomie and contagious conviviality. But what makes it special is that it captures the spirit in such a real and recognizable way. They aren’t your family, but they could be.
Check out the Devour! website to learn how to watch this and other movies, including that documentary everyone’s talking about, My Octopus Teacher.
Should you delete all of your social medias right now? That’s the only relevant question here and YES is the only answer. For many people, though, that’s easier said than done, and most won’t even try, despite this film’s very credible, very convincing reasons. Namely that social media is having a measurably dangerous impact on our culture. It’s spying on you, it’s invading your privacy, it’s selling your soul to the highest bidder, and it’s turning the whole world into a machine meant to change your behaviours – obviously so that you spend money on products being pitched to you, but ultimately you yourself are the product, and the ability to change your real world behaviour (without even triggering your awareness, mind!) is being sold to whomever will pay – dirty politicians and their Russian counterparts, say. And fake news proliferates on a site like Facebook, and spreads 6x faster than the true stuff. Because truth is relatively boring, and lies are exciting, and can lead you down a rabbit hole, sucking more and more of your attention. So while you might give a true headline 3 seconds of your time as you scroll on by, fake news can mean you follow one link to another to another, which means that compared to 3 seconds, fake news just got 3 hours of your attention, which convinces the AI that you like this type of thing better, maybe even believe it, so it will recommend even more of them to you.
Cutting the cable isn’t so easy, though, when the software’s been designed specifically to addict you so that their algorithm can mine and extract your attention.
This film is teaching us to think critically about the apps we use and the content they contain. Capitalism is the real pandemic of our age, and if you’re not paying cash for the apps you’re using, you’re paying in some currency you don’t know about, without your consent. Social media sites use powerful AI to suggest the exact right material to you at the exact right time, presented in the way that’s most likely to catch your eye, keep your attention, and ultimately convert you. They’re implanting thoughts that will affect how you vote, what you support, how you interact with people. This is really scary stuff and the strongest vaccine is information, and a good dose of it can be found right now on Netflix.