Review by Sean Boelman
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. Photo by Parisa Taghizadeh, Courtesy of Screen Media.
Many American remakes of European films end up falling flat, lacking the substance that made the original so noteworthy in the first place and instead simply serving as a showcase for its talented English-language cast. And while that certainly seems to be the case with Roger Michell’s Blackbird, a shallow remake of the Danish movie Silent Heart, the excellent cast at least makes the film enjoyable.
The movie follows a terminally ill mother who assembles her family for one last weekend together before she commits a plan assisted suicide. There are really two main moving parts here — the cancer drama and the dysfunctional family dramedy — and thankfully writer Christian Torpe (who also scripted the Danish version) emphasizes the latter, which is the more compelling portion.
A lot of the conflict is quite obvious, often to the point of feeling cheesy and melodramatic. It requires some suspension of disbelief to accept that the first thought of some of these family members would be to air their grievances with their mother before her death, which leads to a majority of the plot feeling forced and artificial.
The film doesn’t do a whole lot to address the debate about the ethicality of assisted suicide. Apart from one subplot involving one of the characters trying to foil her mother’s plans, there’s only a handful of conversations in which they even address the gigantic elephant in the room. And it’s definitely embarrassing when a young adult romance handles the subject matter better than a serious and mature drama such as this.
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.
Additionally, there are too many other subplots happening in the story. The best moments are those in which the entire family gathers together and functions as a unit. This should be a movie about the importance of family and how that bond stays strong even when tested by adversity. Instead, the film feels the need to go into the personal life of each and every character.
That said, the acting is a definite highlight. Susan Sarandon gives a nuanced and empathetic turn as the dying matriarch. Mia Wasikowska and Kate Winslet are each great in their own ways as her daughters. And Sam Neill, Bex-Taylor Klaus, and Rainn Wilson are solid, but underused as the partners to their respective counterparts.
The movie is very straightforward but competent in its execution as well. Perhaps the biggest aspect that stands out is its production design, as the film is set primarily within the confines of a single home which is decorated quite nicely, but Michell seems to be taking a very character-centric approach here, playing to his obvious strengths.
Blackbird isn’t an exceptional feat of filmmaking, but thanks to an excellent cast, it manages to overcome a shallow script to be a mostly satisfying drama. It’s another would-be buzzy ensemble piece that isn’t substantial enough to get much attention yet also isn’t dull enough to ignore.
Blackbird is now in theaters and on VOD.