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Review: Family goodbye bittersweet in 'Blackbird'

Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet and Sam Neill star in drama about woman who gathers family for final farewell

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A family gathers to say its final goodbyes to its matriarch in "Blackbird," a so-so drama about life and death that never gets off the ground. 

Susan Sarandon plays Lily, who is succumbing to an aggressive form of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She calls her family to join her for one last weekend, at the end of which her doctor husband, Paul (Sam Neill) will administer her a lethal dose of meds. There's no mystery to any of this, everything is on the table and everyone knows why they're there. 

Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet in "Blackbird."

Yet of course big reveals and melodrama ensue, even as Lily — and the film — try to take a welcome, matter-of-fact approach to dying.

Lily is losing use of her right arm, and soon the rest of her body will go, too. She's taking hold of the situation before it takes hold of her and choosing to spend a final weekend the way she wants to before going out on her own terms. 

Being family, of course, everyone brings their own baggage with them.

Daughter Jennifer (Kate Winslet) is miffed when her sister Anna (Mia Wasikowska) shows up late, digging up years of deep-seated resentment between the two. Teenage grandson Jonathan's (Anson Boon) revelation that he'd like to pursue acting is treated like a bombshell announcement, for some reason. And what exactly is Liz (Lindsay Duncan), a family friend, doing at this gathering of close family members?

Sarandon's character is almost glib about her pending death but there's power in the way she's controlling her own destiny. The film — "Notting Hill's" Roger Michell helms this remake of the 2014 Danish drama "Silent Heart" — brings up interesting questions about life and death, even if the debate over doctor-assisted suicide isn't exactly new ground.

Yet "Blackbird" is old-fashioned in the way it parses out its reveals, character arcs and plotting. It follows familiar dramatic patterns rather than taking its own subject matter head on, and becomes stagey and predictable. "Blackbird" continually flies in its own way, and as a result it never hits the emotional highs that it could, or should. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Blackbird'

GRADE: C

Rated R: for language, some drug use and brief sexual material

Running time: 97 minutes

On VOD

Blackbird (R)

A family gathers for a weekend to say its final goodbyes to its matriarch in this stagey, so-so drama that never gets off the ground. (97 minutes) GRADE: C (on VOD)