BLACKBIRD – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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There’s something Big Chill-ish about Blackbird, as an exemplary cast gathers together for a weekend to celebrate the death of Lily, a beloved matriarch. But unlike that Baby Boomer classic, the soon-to-be-deceased person who is in the early throes of a terminal illness is staging her own demise on her own terms.

This right-to-die soap opera is given to the usual bickering, inside jokes, revealed secrets, shared memories and recriminations that happen with most family gatherings. Like the 1983 classic, wine is consumed, a joint is passed, charades is played, spontaneous sex is had and memories, good and bad, are revisited.

Just to make it interesting, the attendees are requested to act like it is Christmas time, complete with a rib roast meal with all the fixings, a chopped-down pine tree, ornaments, a roaring fire and, of course, presents.

But this remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart directed by Roger Michell is most notable for the clan’s picturesque Connecticut beach house, whose swank décor is far more interesting than the dialogue that pours out of the mouths of the stars onscreen.

The only thing keeping this often trite melodrama afloat is its dream ensemble. The always-terrific Susan Sarandon could nail her ailing Lily in her sleep as she indulges in gallows humor and touching moments. Sam Neill attempts to flesh out his supportive husband role, but most of the time he is either pouring vino or making food. Meanwhile, Kate Winslet is forced to hide her usual iridescent glow as judgmental Jennifer, the couple’s older daughter, by donning clunky glasses and barrettes in her mousy brown hair.

As younger sibling Anna, Mia Wasikowska is a sort of rudderless black sheep who brings along her much-cheerier nonbinary partner (Bex Taylor-Klaus). Maybe the most intriguing character is Lindsay Duncan as Lily’s oldest friend, an outsider who avoids most of the feuding. If you like these actors, it might be worth your time to be amongst them. Given that we are very much still caught up in a deadly pandemic, the theme is rather timely. But don’t expect to get any real insight about whether an ailing person should be able to decide for themselves whether it’s their time to go.

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Susan Wloszczyna

Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a senior editor for the online awards site Gold Derby. Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to RogerEbert.com, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.