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VOD Review: Blackbird

September 18, 2020

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Lily (Susan Sarandon) is terminally ill, and wants to get her whole family back together again for one final weekend, before she ends her own life with the assistance of her physician husband Paul (Sam Neill).

Once she is ready to say goodbye, Lily will drink a toxic substance that she bought on the black market, and drift away for good. The major complication is that physician assisted death is illegal in her state, meaning that she needs to trust all of her family members to keep it a secret.

This is the premise behind Blackbird, director Roger Michell’s remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart, which uses the controversial setup as the catalyst for a decent chamber piece that is built around the dynamics of a family airing their grievances with each other over the course of an emotional weekend.

The first of the family members to arrive is Lily’s very “Type A” oldest daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), who comes with her mild-mannered husband Michael (Rainn Wilson) and their teenaged son Jonathan (Anson Boon). Then unpredictable younger daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) shows up, bringing along her partner Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus). Lily’s dear friend Liz (Lindsay Duncan) is also invited, having been a steady presence throughout her life.

They all have secrets, and they all have baggage, which will come to the forefront over the course of the weekend. The entire film revolves around this cast of eight characters, and the drama all unfolds within the confines of Lily’s house and on the surrounding property. It’s very much an ensemble piece, and the performances from all eight actors are the biggest reason to see the film.

Sarandon brings a free-spirited quality to her portrayal of Lily, a former hippie who lived through the ’60s and wants to go out on her own terms, and Neill delivers nicely understated work as her supportive husband. Winslet disappears into the role of the very conservative older daughter, while Wasikowska compliments her quite nicely as the wild child younger sibling whose arrival threatens to cause chaos.

If I’m being completely honest, I do have mixed feelings about the subject matter itself. But Blackbird handles the controversial topic of assisted death in a way that feels mostly natural to the story, showing the complex, mixed feelings that members of Lily’s own family have about the choice she is making. It’s elevated by good performances from its cast of actors, who all turn in solid work, and ultimately serves as a fairly engaging and well acted character drama that acknowledges families can be messier and more complicated than we would probably like to admit.

Blackbird is now available for rent and purchase on a variety of digital and VOD platforms. It’s being distributed in Canada by levelFILM.

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