Cinema Review: Blackbird | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, January 27th, 2023  


Studio: Screen Media Films
Directed by Roger Michell

Sep 17, 2020 Web Exclusive
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A remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart, Blackbird is centered around Lily (Susan Sarandon), a terminally ill ALS patient who gathers her family and close friends for one last weekend before she commits suicide assisted by her physician husband (Sam Neill). The guest list includes Lily’s two daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska) – who are distant from their mother and each other – along with their partners, Jennifer’s son, and Lily’s best friend. As the melancholic and bittersweet mood of the weekend sets in, tensions quickly broil when the people closest to Lily attempt to comprehend her final decision, leading to an often uncomfortable and chaotic three days.

Blackbird’s greatest success is the consistent, emotional tone that it sets right from the film’s opening, when viewers aren’t aware of what is going on. As the film progresses, the urgency and helplessness of Lily’s situation can be felt, regardless of what is happening on screen. The characters may be doing “normal” things, such as going on beachside walks, solving crossword puzzles, and sitting around talking, but once viewers know what is going to happen to Lily after her family’s sojourn ends, it’s impossible to see anything in a normal light. This is a unique quality of the film that could have been very impactful if explored properly. Blackbird doesn’t use the existential terror of Lily’s and her family’s situation to drive the film’s dialogue and plot. Instead, it places its attention instead on petty and unimportant family squabbles.

Since the film takes place in one location over the span of three days, viewers have to rely solely on conversations to understand each character’s personality and the nature of their individual relationship with Lily. The problem is that all of the dialogue between characters is incredibly surface-level. When the tension between characters, predominantly between Lily’s two daughters, arises in the second half of the film, it never really feels earned or believable because the first half doesn’t set the viewer up for it.

For a film with such emotional undertones and an all-star cast, most of the performances feel stale, with Wasikowska’s portrayal of Lily’s younger daughter, Anna, being the notable exception. The lack of impact of these performances is primarily due to the lack of character development in the film. Anna is the only character who spends most of her time on-screen considering and questioning the ethics of Lily’s decision. All of the other characters are written like caricatures, leading to too many unwarranted tonal and personality shifts for any of the actors to pull off convincingly. Wasikowska’s personification of the character is a bold reminder of what Blackbird could have been if it focused more time on making its characters human-like and less time on trying to force a sense of normalcy in a situation that is anything but.

Blackbird spends too much effort trying to explore a complex idea in an un-complex way that it leaves viewers with nothing much to take away in the long run. The film has powerful moments, a great set of actors, and good ideas, but those don’t mean much when they can’t be combined to create a meaningful final product with a clear intention.


Author rating: 5/10

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