“Blackbird” is a movie about a woman named Lily (Susan Sarandon), who is terminally ill with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and doesn’t want her body and mind to suffer as the condition progresses. But before she kills herself, she has invited her family together one last time at the beachfront home she shares with her husband Paul (Sam Neill). He is a physician who fully supports Lily’s decision, and as they arrive, it seems like the rest of her clan does, too.
Lily’s grown daughters Jennifer (Kate Winslet) and Anna (Mia Wasikowska) don’t come alone. The former, a mom with an urge to be in control at all times, brings her husband, Michael (Rainn Wilson), the kind of guy who feels the need to prove how smart he is by spouting facts and historical anecdotes at random times. Their teen son, Jonathan, comes along, too. As for the troubled Anna, she’s accompanied by her on-again, off-again girlfriend, Chris. Rounding out the group is Liz (Lindsay Duncan), Lily’s oldest and closest friend.
Family gathering movies often fall into either tear-jerker or infighting cliches (e.g. “August: Osage County,” “The Family Stone,” “Home For The Holidays”), and “Blackbird” does a few times, too. But what makes it work are Sarandon’s lead performance as a woman determined to end her life with as much dignity as she’s lived it. I also liked Neill’s stolid determination as Paul ensures that Lily’s last days are as full of love and commitment as possible.
Having lost both my mother and mother-in-law last year, “Blackbird” touched me in ways I didn’t expect. Credit director Roger Michell — who displays his best work since “Notting Hill” two decades ago, with a nice balance of pathos, squabbling, and silliness — and the script by Christian Torpe, who also wrote the Danish movie, “Silent Heart,” on which “Blackbird” is based.
I give “Blackbird” an 8 out of 10.