Blackbird Review: Susan Sarandon Delivers a Strong Performance

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Roger Michell's Blackbird is a family drama with an impressive cast.

The bottle movie takes place almost entirely in one location, when a married couple receives their children, their spouses, and a family friend for the weekend.

I've missed slice-of-life movies as so many features go for big thrills and lean heavily on style.

Blackbird Poster

Blackbird trims the fat and delivers a beautiful performance from Susan Sarandon as Lily, a woman grappling with end-of-life issues after a long battle with ALS.

It's the final family gathering for Lily and her husband, Paul (Sam Neill), and all that they ask is that everyone respect their wishes and get along, making lasting memories and giving Lily the sendoff she desires.

Unfortunately, family gathers always come with a lot of strife, and Lily and Paul's daughters, Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Waiskowska) bring with them unresolved issues that threaten to make the weekend difficult.

Friends on the Beach

Other guests at the gathering include Jennifer's husband (Rainn Wilson) and their son (Anson Boon), Lily's life-long friend (Lindsay Duncan) and Anna's partner (Bex Taylor-Klaus).

A lot of factors unique to the filming of Blackbird give the feature wings despite the heavy theme.

The cast bought into the production early, with much excitement. Winslet was the first to be cast, and she was instrumental in finding a place that could double as Connecticut -- near her home in Chichester, England.

Blackbird called to Winslet because 18 months before filming, she lost her own mother, and the film offered her the opportunity to channel her pent-up emotions into the film.

Susan Sarandon as Lily and Sam Neill as Paul

Sarandon was nearly not a part of the movie, as another actor had been cast in her role. A scheduling conflict away, and it's impossible to imagine anyone else capturing the emotions as Sarandon does as Lily.

Sarandon and Neill played wife and husband previously in a film titled Irresistible, giving them an easy familiarity with one another that resonates throughout Blackbird.

Even Taylor-Klaus came into their role with a different angle as the character of Chris was initially Christopher, a 32-year-old man. But once people see Taylor-Klaus in action, it seems an easy fit to modify a role to suit them.

I'm not going to go into the details of the film because that's for you to enjoy.

Kate Winslet as Jennifer and Mia Wasikowska as Anna

But the subject matter might be difficult for some. End-of-life decision making isn't easy, and each individual has to prepare in their own way, making their own decisions about their fate.

With a disease as progressively damaging as ALS, time is of the essence because once the switch is flicked, the afflicted may not ever have the chance again for their say in their care.

As Lily has chosen an early exit, the weekend consists of meaningful moments she's creating for her family and friends and those around her trying to ensure that her last memories are offer a sendoff worthy of the woman they love.

Blackbird never feels as maudlin as you might imagine, though. Instead, even through their interpersonal struggles, the event elicits a celebratory and hopeful atmosphere, reminding us that death is a part of life, and it only need be sad if we make it so.

Enjoying A Meal

It feels like it's been a while since an adult drama about adult themes so simply suggested that our human experiences, while very raw, are also shared. We aren't alone and have a lot more in common than we sometimes realize.

Lily effortlessly maintains her dignity while asking her family to accept her wishes. Their relationships are strained to the breaking point, but the beauty of Blackbird is that they never lose the common thread holding them together -- love.

Sarandon's nuanced performance, just like Lily's love for her family, holds the film together, with everyone following her capable lead.

It's strange that a movie about impending death can be so uplifting.

Family Holiday

But with so much happening in 2020 and with friends and family seemingly so far away, there is comfort in the togetherness such an ocassion calls forth.

It's sure better than imagining those we love lost and alone without a hand to hold when they need it the most.

With a pleasing setting, commanding performances, and love to spare, Blackbird is a family drama well worth the watch.

Blackbird is available in theaters and on-demand beginning Friday, September 18.


Editor Rating: 3.5 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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