TIFF Review: ‘Blackbird’

Published 5:10 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2019

By Lauren Bradshaw

You know I am unabashedly biased when it comes to Kate Winslet movies because, well, she is the best actress on the planet and can do no wrong. But I can say with full confidence that despite “Blackbird’s” bleak subject matter, it is actually one of the best films I have seen at TIFF so far this year. Of course, the extraordinary cast is the highlight of the film, but the gorgeous cinematography and long, lingering wide shots of the family interacting gave the voyeuristic viewpoint of a fly on the wall and really helps audiences connect emotionally with the characters.

A remake of a Danish film, “Blackbird” focuses on a family coming together to celebrate the last weekend of the matriarch of the family’s life. Lily (Susan Sarandon) is terminally ill and starting to feel her body shut down. Instead of waiting for her condition to get worse and taking away her self-sufficiency, Lily decides she wants to end her life her way, on her own terms. So she gathers together her husband (Sam Neill), best friend (Lindsay Duncan), daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska), and their families to enjoy one last weekend as a family. After the family leaves, Lily plans to take medication to end her life.

Of course, despite her extensive planning, things don’t go as smoothly as Lily hoped and she may have to work harder to get her family’s complete buy-in for the plan. But this is where the movie really excels, examining the characters’ interpersonal relationships with each other. No surprise here, but my favorite dynamic was the fiery exchanges between the sisters played by Winslet and Wasikowska. Their fights were entertaining and humorous, but it was in the moments of reflection and honesty that the two performances really shone.

“Blackbird” almost feels more like a play than a movie thanks to theatrical blocking and Mike Eley’s gorgeous cinematography, which features majority wide-shots of the whole cast interacting throughout many of the scenes. You are able to choose which actor you want to focus on, as opposed to being made to look at a certain interaction based on the camera’s focus. These wide-shots also helped add to the fantastic chemistry that radiates amongst the cast. Even though the subject matter is very dark, the set actually looked like it was a lot of fun and that the actors really did have love for each other. I know the cast even got tattoos of a blackbird after filming wrapped because they got so close on set (see photo).

Unfortunately, the exact moment of the movie’s climax was interrupted by a medical emergency in the audience, disrupting the entire build-up the film had made for the last 1.5 hours. But that didn’t stop me from truly enjoying the film, its cast, and cinematography … oh and shedding a few tears along the way. And luckily for me, Kate’s character arc was the best in the film and we are able to see her flex some of her comedic chops.

My Review: A-

LAUREN BRADSHAW is a lover of all movies, even the bad ones. Follow her on twitter @flickchickdc. She grew up in Courtland, graduated from Southampton Academy and doubled-majored in foreign affairs and history at the University of Virginia. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.