Director Roger Michell has tackled a variety of topics in his films: movie star romance (“Notting Hill”), TV news (“Morning Glory”), FDR’s fascination with hot dogs (“Hyde Park on Hudson”) and now… assisted suicide.
“Blackbird” is a remake of the 2014 Danish film “Silent Heart”. Susan Sarandon plays Lily. She’s a wife and mother for two — and a terminal illness. Soon won’t be able to walk, talk, feed herself or breathe on her own. And so Lily has decided to end her life. Husband Paul (Sam Neill) has supplied her with drug that she take and then permanently go to sleep.
But before that final act, Lily wants to have one more grand weekend at her beach home with her family and best friend. There are only eight characters in “Blackbird”: Lily and Paul, daughters Jennifer and Anna (Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska), Jennifer’s husband Michael (Rainn Wilson), Anna’s romantic partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), grandson Jonathan (Anson Boon) and Lily’s BFF Liz (Lindsay Duncan).
Some members of this dysfunctional troupe get along with each other. Others really don’t. It’s been decided for months that this will be Lily’s last weekend EVER. And everyone wants this farewell to go well. But as the hours countdown the drama grows — and never lets up. At least 80% of what takes place in “Blackbird” would never happen in a similar situation in real life.
That’s not to say that elements of this story aren’t honest and relatable. But unfortunately most of it is over-the-top, in-your-face and out of proportion. Christian Torpe’s screenplay has nothing fresh to say about family dynamics (it borders on a re-hash of “August: Osage County”). The script does go fairly deep into the controversy and impact of assisted suicide, which was a hot-button topic in ’14. This makes the film seem a bit dated, but the issue remain unsettling and through-provoking.
Sarandon does her best with a slightly underdeveloped role. She does the “cool grandma” persona quite well (though she’s not as outrageous here as in 2017’s “A Bad Moms Christmas”). Duncan doesn’t have a lot to work with, though she does deliver one of “Blackbird”’s best lines, complaining about perfectionist people who “try to straighten all the pictures”. Winslet, Wilson and Wasikowska’s performances fluctuate over the course of the movie. Neill’s husband role is thankless.
If my life depended on it I couldn’t tell you why the film is called “Blackbird”. If you figure it out, let me know.
Michell hasn’t laid an egg here. But too many questionable acts by characters at key moments prevent this well-intentioned melodrama from taking flight.