Blackbird Mixes Drama With Humor

Rainn Wilson as Michael, Sam Neill as Paul, Bex Taylor-Klaus as Chris, Mia Wasikowska as Anna, Lindsay Duncan as Liz, Susan Sarandon as Lily, and Anson Boon as Jonathan. Blackbird arrives in theaters and on demand on September 18, 2020 from Screen Media.

A family spends one final weekend together at their Connecticut beach house in Blackbird before saying goodbye to a loved one.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to family members when you know they are dying.  You don’t know if the next time you’ll see them is going to be the last.  This isn’t the case in Blackbird because everyone knows this will be the last time they see Lily (Susan Sarandon).  Paul (Sam Neill) and Lily call their children home for one final weekend together.  One by one, their daughters arrive home.  First to arrive is Jennifer (Kate Winslet) with her husband, Paul (Rainn Wilson), and son, Jonathan (Anson Boon).  Last to arrive is Anna (Mia Wasikowska) and her partner, Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus).  Oh yeah, there’s also Lily’s best friend, Liz (Lindsay Duncan).

Does the weekend go as Lily prefers?  Nope.  Not even close!  This is what happens when Jennifer and Anna aren’t entirely on board with Lily’s decision.  More than that, the film slowly reveals some things that certainly change the family dynamics.  I won’t get into spoiler territory here because it would just ruin the film before you even see it.

Sam Neill as Paul, Bex Taylor-Klaus as Chris, Rainn Wilson as Michael, Kate Winslet as Jennifer, Lindsay Duncan as Liz, Susan Sarandon as Lily, Mia Wasikowska as Anna, and Anson Boon as Jonathan. Blackbird arrives in theaters and on demand on September 18, 2020 from Screen Media. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh, Courtesy of Screen Media

One of the things that helps for family chemistry–and the film in general–is the decision to shoot in chronological order.  This way, we see actors reacting to things that just happened.  There are some scenes where this really plays to the film’s benefit.  Another thing the film has going for it is the decision to keep the production simple.  Aside from outside exteriors for walks and such, everyone is contained to the house.  Another benefit is a small cast–eight actors in total.

Christian Thorpe’s script never allows the film to get overly sentimental as these sorts of films tend to be.  It’s nowhere near as emotionally heavy as another TIFF 2019 selection, Ordinary Love.  Put it this way: I can watch a third film of the day after this one as opposed to the cancer drama.  Where the other film is nothing but drama, Thorpe’s script also goes for laughs.  I mean, one of the most humorous scenes in this entire film is the family bonding at dinner while smoking pot together.

The film does add to LGBTQ representation on screen without making a big deal out of it.  This is really the way that it needs to be done.  Bex Taylor-Klaus, who plays Chris, is non-binary.  In general, it’s really great to see more  transgender and non-binary representation on screen.

While the film is about a terminally ill woman wanting to die, Blackbird never really dives into the legality or politics of it all.  While symptoms do come up at one point, the film never really tells us what Lily is dying of.  If you pay close attention during the credits, it turns out that Lily is suffering from ALS.

DIRECTOR: Roger Michell
SCREENWRITER: Christian Torpe
CAST:  Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mia Wasikowska, Sam Neill, Bex Taylor-Klaus, Rainn Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Anson Boon

Screen Media opens Blackbird in theaters and VOD on September 18, 2020. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.