LFF 2019: Blackbird – Review

Release date – N/A, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 37 minutes, Director – Roger Michell

A family regather for one last time together to say goodbye to their terminally ill relative (Susan Sarandon).

Almost every year during that patch between Boxing Day and the New Year, while all the big pre-Christmas blockbusters are still competing at the box office, a small film is usually dropped into the market to often mixed or somewhat weak reviews. Either a drama with ideas somewhat similar to It’s A Wonderful Life, a mild family based comedy-drama or just a generic American family comedy; all of these almost always having a big name ensemble cast. Blackbird – while not currently having a release date – falls into the second of these categories. Adapted from his 2014 film Silent Heart writer Christian Torpe pens the story of a family coming together as the terminally ill mother (Susan Sarandon) prepares to live her final days; choosing to quietly take her life rather than suffer by gradually being locked in her own body.

This decision is, of course, met with varying responses from the family. While husband (Sam Neill) and daughter, Jennifer (Kate Winslet), seem to be fine with the idea other daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) secretly wishes for more time to spend with her mother, objecting against the idea. Add into the mix the boring husbands, latest partners, and children of the family, and the best friend of Sarandon’s character (featuring names such as Rainn Wilson and Lindsay Duncan) and the different opinions of the group begin to show and create tensions in what’s intended to be a time of calm.

It’s clear from the subject matter that Blackbird could easily be seen as a straight upsetting drama, however Torpe’s screenplay chooses to inject comedy into the piece to create a lighter tone, possibly with the intention of creating a more human piece. However, the scenes throughout the film appear to alternate between comedy and drama, giving a sense of imbalance. With this being the case it almost feels as if the film itself isn’t sure as to whether it’s a comedy or a drama, as often it certainly feels as if it’s not a mix between the two. A feeling that’s further brought about by the occasionally improvised feel to a number of scenes, some feeling as if they are being performed on a stage rather than as a part of a film – in fact you could easily be forgiven for thinking that this was an adaptation of a play rather than another film. The lengthy nature of some scenes and interactions further creating the stage-like feel that large amounts of the film hold.

While there are one or two laughs throughout the piece, coming from conventional places such as misunderstandings or a bickering family. Much of Blackbird’s central ideas and moments come from places of convention. To an extent this is a film that has been seen a number of times before, making this feel particularly cliche and at times nothing more than rather cheesy, as is possibly to be expected from a feature such as this. The performances throughout are perfectly fine and in many ways reflect the conventional nature of the film. Piecing together as each new element is brought in. Adjusting to the tone depending on what the scene or moment requires, confliction, upset, humour or even just displaying the feeling of casual memories of walking a route taken during childhood. In fact if there’s one box that the film and the performances within it don’t tick it’s that of subtlety. While there is some slight subtlety scattered throughout the piece much of the tone and ideas attempted to be conveyed are mostly very matter of fact, although not quite bordering on being in the face of the viewer.

When everything is brought together the final result is something very safe and conventional. Playing to what we’ve seen a number of times and therefore not quite packing the emotional punch, or at times comedic point, that it may be aiming for it overall feels rather average. The performances are fine and the screenplay, might like the film itself, might feel slightly improvised and tonally imbalanced at times, but overall the film is perfectly fine. It has some decent enough elements and goes through with enough ease to make it a perfectly fine mild family based comedy-drama that fits in with the likes often released between Boxing Day and New Year.

Blackbird has a number of tonal issues, often brought about by the slightly improvised feel. And while it does seem to heavily rely on convention it’s perfectly fine for what it does, and the big name cast also puts in a good turn to help keep things going.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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