Blackbird (2020)

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Blackbird (2020) Movie Poster Image
Excellent cast elevates sentimental right-to-die drama.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 97 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes strong family bonds, honesty in personal relationships, transparency regarding health directives and decisions. Takes a positive stance on assisted death, arguing that it provides the terminally ill with a choice about when and how to die with dignity; this is a controversial idea depending on your values and beliefs. Encourages empathy, compassion, tolerance, acceptance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are humanly flawed and make mistakes but love and want the best for one another. Lily is thoughtful, kind, clear-eyed about her life, her illness, her decision. Jennifer is a helpful and organized mother, wife, and daughter (if a bit tightly wound). Paul is a supportive, encouraging husband and father. Anna is torn between supporting her mother and wanting more time with her. Cast is uniformly White.

Violence

Lily's end-of-life plan is described dispassionately. A character describes her suicide attempt. A wife throws wine at her husband's face; it's played for laughs. A woman yells "stop it!" to her arguing family. Several tense family scenes with arguments and tears. A wine glass shatters.

Sex

Anna and Liz talk about having sex once, when they were younger, saying they had "fine" technique but weren't into it. Lily makes a joke that her inheritance must be spent on "hookers and blow." Two married couples kiss and embrace. One couple kisses passionately and starts to undress and get on the floor in a fast love scene. Sex is implied; a man's bare back is visible. Two people are shown clandestinely kissing.

Language

Frequent strong language, especially in the second half of the movie, includes dozens of uses of "f--k" and "f--king," as well as "bitch," "s--t," "s--tload," "what the hell," "damn," "oh my God," "Jesus!," etc.

Consumerism

Ford, Volkswagen. The family enjoys the material aspects of privilege.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lily makes a joke that her inheritance must be spent on "hookers and blow." Anna and Chris smoke a joint. Someone smokes cigarettes. Everyone (including a teen) shares a hit of a joint that's deemed intense. Lots of wine drinking. Lily and Liz recall trying acid but preferring mushrooms. They also joke about being at Woodstock "in spirit." Anna has an entire bag filled with prescription drugs. Paul describes the powerful drug cocktail (a strong barbiturate, pentobarbital) that Lily will take to end her life. A character describes her attempted suicide by taking a lot of pills.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Blackbird is an English-language remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart. It follows a family that's gathering to celebrate a terminally ill woman's life before her impending assisted death. Starring Susan Sarandon as the woman in question, Sam Neill as her husband, and Kate Winslet and Mia Wasikowska as her daughters, it's an intimate family drama that deals with mature, complicated themes. There's a lot of wine drinking and a couple of scenes of marijuana use (including by a teen), but it's all part of the dying woman's wishes. Strong language includes many uses of "f--k," "f--king," "s--t," "damn," and more. Three different couples kiss, and one couple has a funny love scene (the man's bare back is visible before the camera cuts away). Families who watch together will be able to discuss their views around assisted dying, advanced directives, and the importance of being truthful and loving with family and friends.

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What's the story?

BLACKBIRD -- director Roger Michell's remake of the 2014 Danish film Silent Heart -- is a family drama about a woman with a terminal illness who gathers her husband, her daughters and their partners, her grandson, and her best friend for a final weekend together before she moves ahead with her assisted dying plan. Lily (Susan Sarandon) is suffering from ALS and quickly losing control of her body. She and her husband, Paul (Sam Neill), have come to terms with her decision. Although their straitlaced, dependable daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) is understanding, impetuous younger daughter Anna (Mia Wasikowska) is troubled, because she wants more time with her mom. Others at the house for the momentous final weekend, which includes a final Christmas celebration, are Jennifer's husband, Michael (Rainn Wilson); their teen son, Jonathan (Anson Boon); Anna's partner, Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus); and Lily's lifelong best friend, Liz (Lindsay Duncan). But as the weekend progresses, secrets are revealed, and the bickering sisters change their minds about how they feel about their mother's impending death.

Is it any good?

Sarandon has played a middle-aged dying mom before, and she once again believably stars as a terminally ill mother in this death-with-dignity drama that's poignant but not preachy. There are a lot of familiar elements to Blackbird for those well-versed in dramas about privileged families: an architectural gem of a beachfront house (it's supposed to be on the Connecticut coast, but it's actually in the United Kingdom), siblings so different they can't help but bicker in the face of their mother's impending death, a best friend who can't stop reminiscing about inside jokes, a comic-relief in-law, and a bunch of shocking secrets. Despite the still controversial subject of assisted dying, the script by Christian Torpe (who also wrote the Danish original) doesn't include many deep conversations about Lily's decision, even after a last-minute revelation leaves the daughters so unbalanced that they have an emotional confrontation with their parents.

The women are far more nuanced than the men in this drama. There's Lily, who's certain, comforting, and caring, even as she processes her own mortality. Surrounding her are decisive, organized, stable Jennifer and unreliable, directionless Anna, as well as the always excellent Duncan as Lily's compassionate best friend. Winslet and Wasikowska are so good in their on-screen fights that they should co-star again in a movie. By comparison, the men are somewhat forgettable: Michael, whom Anna literally calls "Mr. Dull," and even Paul, who's almost too supportive (it's difficult to believe he'd be so willing for his wife to end her life before the degenerative disease takes total control of her body). The one partner who stands out is Anna's nonbinary significant other Chris, mostly thanks to Taylor-Klaus' charisma. Despite some of Blackbird's predictable turns (particularly for those familiar with the original), this remake delivers worthy performances and a touching examination of life, love, death, and loss.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether they consider anyone in Blackbird to be a role model. Which character strengths do the various characters demonstrate? Why are communication, compassion, and empathy important life traits and skills?

  • What do you think about Lily's end-of-life decision? What would she have gained by waiting for her illness to claim her life in its own time? Do you agree with the way her family responded to her decision?

  • Jennifer and Anna have a somewhat contentious relationship. Why do you think opposite-seeming siblings are so common in movies and TV shows? Is that realistic? What can siblings do to have stronger relationships?

  • Discuss the role of Liz. What does she mean when she lashes out at Jennifer that their family was the only family she was going to have? Why do you think it's still considered unusual for someone to remain single and childless?

Movie details

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