The Starling could’ve been amazing. It had the workings of it. But ultimately it faltered for many reasons…one possibly transphobic.
Melissa McCarthy has admittedly been stuck in an acting position where she plays the funny fat girl. (This is coming from a fellow fat girl.) She’s played that role and that stereotype so many times that when you think of her, you think of funny, and nothing else. The Starling was absolutely a chance for her to spread her wings and show the world that she has acting chops. Because if Kristen Stewart can do it with Spencer (I hope she wins that Oscar in her future) then so can McCarthy.
And she did a great job as lead of The Starling. She balanced the hurt she was feeling with this drive to not move on from the tragedy in her life, you never truly move on, but to move forward with it. McCarthy also managed to show a piece of depression from a different angle. The loss of a child is something I’ve never personally experienced but I have felt depression take me by the throat and transform me into someone just…different. That’s what happened with McCarthy’s Lilly.
She was alone, dealing with the loss of a child, but she was still moving forward. And it was painful to watch her do it by herself. And I mean 90% by herself. The healing she had to do, the progress she had to do, the grieving she had to do. All by herself. And it fucking sucked. Her character deserved better and I found myself spending so much time hating the husband for abandoning her when she needed him. And again, I understand depression and the ways that it grips people up, but the husband’s selfishness was part of the reason why this was a miss for me.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that he expressed that he’s been out of depressive states for ages. Depression is like that. It sneaks up on you, you think you’re good, and then you stop doing the things that made you better because you think you’re in control. And for some people, it works. They get through it. But there are others like me and Chris O’Dowd’s Jack who are consumed by it. And maybe I’m projecting but…he just gave up. Over and over. He ultimately found his way out of the mental asylum and back to Lilly, but they didn’t 100% sell it to me as to why he broke, why it took so long, and why he abandoned his wife.
If anything, I needed more time with Jack to understand him and his pain. And in many ways that’s good. It shows that the heart of the material is good and has the makings. But in many ways it’s bad because this director thought they could fit a journey of two hurting people into an hour and 45 minute time slot. And that just isn’t realistic, never will be, and ended up making me cringe at this movie and then some because I was looking to connect and I just felt my own depression calling bullshit. But again, this is my experience. My trauma to work on. And maybe it works for those who feels this kind of depression. For me, I wasn’t feeling it.
Then there’s the whole thing where I’m still not sure if The Starling made a transphobic joke or not. Lilly goes to see Dr. Larry Fine, played by the perpetually handsome Kevin Kline. He used to be a therapist but after a private failure that was never explored, he became a vet. There’s this confusing exchange when they first meet where Dr. Fine makes a comment about neutering a dog and getting rid of their “marbles.” When Lilly is brought into the conversation, she puts up her hands and makes sure that he knows that she’s “as advertised.”
What the hell does that even mean? As advertised? Some women (yes, transgender women are women) have “marbles” as you call them. They might’ve not gotten bottom surgery or want it at all. That’s their prerogative and no one else’s. But they are still women and present themselves to the world as women. And this whole “as advertised” bit feels ignorant of the reality that women come in all shapes, sizes, and with genitalia that is no one’s business.
And honestly, I don’t think I’m reading into it or making a mountain out of a molehill. It’s little slights like this that make people side-eye content creators, the work they’ve done, and what they’re going to do in the future. And I really hope that someone speaks to these creators in particular and goes, “Yeah, we need to talk about that joke and why it makes people uncomfortable.” Because the joke bothered me so much that I kept thinking about it and exploring in my mind if this is also a joke that ignores those who identify as non-binary and gender nonconforming.
That’s the last thing you want people thinking about while watching a movie about depression, how grief becomes tangled with it so intricately, and how people find their ways back to themselves, even if that way is because of a crazy and abusive Starling. For that, I give this movie 2 squawks out of 5. Melissa McCarthy sold it but those around her, including the writing, couldn’t save it. And my only hope is that she continues to work towards telling stories that resonate and aren’t there to build upon a stereotype like she’s done in the past.
The Starling is available on Netflix.