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"BLACKBIRD"
(2020) (Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: Family members and a few others gather to spend a weekend with the matriarch who's decided to end her life before ALS robs her of complete control of her body.
PLOT:

It's a seemingly normal weekend at the coastal home of Lily (SUSAN SARANDON) and Paul Walker (SAM NEILL) who've invited their longtime friend, Liz (LINDSAY DUNCAN), and adult daughters Jennifer (KATE WINSLET) and Anna (MIA WASIKOWSKA) to gather for an important event.

All, including Jennifer's husband, Michael (RAINN WILSON), and their teenage son, Jonathan (ANSON BOON), along with Anna's on-again, off-again girlfriend, Chris (BEX TAYLOR-KLAUS), are fully aware of the reason for the get-together.

And that is that Lily is planning on committing suicide on Sunday evening due to having ALS, rapidly losing control of her body, and wanting to go out on her own terms. As the weekend proceeds and with the family members having varying and changing responses to the plan, various family issues come to the forefront, all of which serve to cloud the issue at hand and the decision that Lily has made.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

Everyone knows the old saying about the only guarantees in life being death and taxes. And while everybody pretty much knows when taxes in their many forms will be paid, far fewer know when their time on Earth is up.

That is, except for those who take their own lives and while suicide is nearly always something that catches survivors off-guard and is something you want to prevent from happening, I'm completely down with those who are terminally ill wanting to go out on their own terms.

Ironically, the "humane" thing to do for terminally ill animals is to euthanize them, but when humans are in the same boat, they're encouraged and sometimes even ordered to soldier on through pain and suffering until "it's their time."

Yes, there are sometimes tricky situations where the sick person might not be completely of sound mind and/or where heirs are already counting their inheritance and thus such decisions and encouragement, if you will, might be rather dubious.

But when faced with an illness that has a zero survivability rate and ends in an agonizing and often prolonged demise -- such as ALS that two of my former work colleagues (out of maybe 30 people) have died from (yes, a near statistically impossible scenario) -- sign me up for a skydiving excursion where, oops, the parachute somehow won't open.

All of which came to mind while watching "Blackbird," a family drama written by Christian Torpe and directed by Roger Michell ("Notting Hill"). In it, Susan Sarandon stars as a woman suffering from the same malady that robbed the world of Lou Gehrig so long ago.

Having already put up a fight but now realizing that resistance is futile -- and already suffering from the progressively worsening effects of the hideous disease -- she's gathered her family, their significant others, and a lifelong friend to join her and her doctor husband (Sam Neill) for one last weekend get-together at her coastal home before she puts an end to everything on Sunday evening.

And while everyone -- daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet), her husband, Michael (Rainn Wilson), and their teenage son Jonathan (Anson Boon), as well as second daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) and her on-again, off-again girlfriend, Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), along with Lily's oldest friend, Liz (Lindsay Duncan) -- are reluctantly on board with her decision, strained dynamics between the sibling sisters along with other discoveries and revelations start to cast doubts about whether it's the right thing to do or, at minimum, the right time to do it.

While a few plot elements in this remake of the Danish film "Silent Heart" (that I have not seen) feel a little contrived or shoehorned in, for the most part, this is an emotionally engaging film about a difficult subject and family dynamic that benefits from a smart script and strong performances across the board. While it might not make the potential for facing something like ALS any easier, perhaps it will open more dialogue about decriminalizing assisted suicide in states where it's still illegal. "Blackbird" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.




Reviewed September 14, 2020 / Posted September 18, 2020


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