Blackbird is the equivalent of running a story about euthanasia through an airbrushing app.
Melodramatic movies about death or dying, like Blackbird, never involve a working-class family struggling to make ends meet. They almost always center around a well-to-do (and most likely white) family sharing moments on a waterfront property that few could ever come close to owning in five lifetimes. There won’t be a whiff of any socioeconomic hardship and of course, no common health-insurance concerns are ever brought up. Blackbird is the equivalent of running a story about euthanasia through an airbrushing app.
The film begins with Lily (Susan Sarandon) and Paul (Sam Neill) inviting their entire family and close friends to their beach house. The first to arrive is their oldest child, Jennifer (Kate Winslett) with her husband, Michael (Rainn Wilson), and their son, Jonathan (Anson Boon). Lily and Paul’s youngest, Anna (Mia Wasikowska), arrives later with her partner, Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). Lily also invites her oldest friend, Liz (Birdman’s Lindsay Duncan). Everyone comes together to have one last weekend together because Lily has decided to end her life before her terminal condition puts her on a respirator and feeding tube for the rest of her natural life.
Director Roger Michel (Notting Hill, Changing Lanes) takes a script from Christian Torpe (The Mist) and lets his talented cast revel in their roles. This is the cinematic equivalent of Bill Murray telling everyone he’s a sailor in What About Bob, but the secret is that he let the boat do the work. The problem is that the script is more interested in creating contrived family subplots — there are so many. For example, the daughters bicker so often, you’ll find yourself yelling at the screen, “Is now really the time?” This includes a romantic plot twist causing a bout of paranoia that feels like it was ripped straight from a Lifetime movie.
Blackbird is a melodrama — so, yes, it does entertain. The performances, Sarandon’s in particular, are good considering the material they have to work with. The most casual moviegoer may even find this film to be a grand piece of art. However, the fact of the matter is that this is a look at euthanasia through rose-colored glasses. It’s how you wish death’s final moments should be, with a big ol’ smile for the viewer to make everything copacetic. That is not what art is all about.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.