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The Starling and Bad Sport

click to enlarge Getting used to gathering outdoors.

The Starling

Getting used to gathering outdoors.

THE STARLING. Fans of Melissa McCarthy will know that she does both comedy and drama. The Starling (on Netflix) is the latter, so if you were expecting to see her do things along the lines of talking through a mouthful of food, belly-flopping or adopting six dogs all at once, you'll want to check out one of her comedies or catch her on SNL reruns. But don't let that deter you from this well-acted film.

In the idyllic opening scene, Lily Maynard (McCarthy) and husband Jack (Chris O'Dowd) are painting their infant daughter's room, clearly in love with each other and their baby, so you know something awful is going to happen. We don't see or hear about the awful. Instead, we follow a small, black bird as it picks up a candy bar wrapper and flies many miles to its nest, deposits the wrapper, pecks its partner on the beak and flies away again.

This beautiful sequence sets the tone for the rest of this thoughtful, quirky film about a married couple who have no idea how to go about carrying on the same, mundane tasks of everyday life after the death of their child.

Some aspects of the film are wildly unrealistic. The mental facility where Jack is staying, for example, looks like a slightly downscaled version of Downton Abbey with pottery classes (wheel-throwing, mind you), intimate group therapy sessions and a psychiatrist who never talks above a whisper. And Lily presumably helps pay for their sprawling, well-maintained farmhouse by working as a clerk in a grocery store. Still, I could forgive those things because the subject matter and acting are above average.

Having honed her craft at both the Actor's Studio and the L.A. comedy improv group the Groundlings, McCarthy is a pro in whichever genre she chooses. In this film, she's raw, a dedicated woman who, like the starling she reluctantly shares a yard with, will not give up, no matter her pain. But don't even try to comfort her. It's obvious she's not OK in how she rubs out the crib marks from the rug and drags all of the living room furniture out to the road in the middle of the night, then trades it to the first people who drive up for a Naugahyde recliner. While she forgoes physical comedy, scenes where she's fending off the starling that plays offense on what he considers his territory are funny in a grim, tragic way.

O'Dowd, too, deserves kudos for daring to play opposite McCarthy in a role where each character is equally distraught. He holds his own character's pain like a fragile flower. Jack can't say his daughter's name. He hoards his meds. He calls his wife just to hear her voice, then hangs up.

Thoughtful performances by Kevin Kline, who plays an ex-psychiatrist turned veterinarian who clumsily tries to help Lily, and Daveed Diggs (from Hamilton — sorry, no songs this time) as the pottery teacher are directed artfully by Theodore Melfi, who also directed 2016's Hidden Figures and another McCarthy comedy/drama, 2014's St. Vincent.

Not a lot happens but it's what doesn't happen that tells you what's going on, and things do progress. And there is that cute, obnoxious bird. PG13. 102M. NETFLIX.

BAD SPORT. The 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City saw several teams competing in pairs figure skating. Yet everyone knew, long before the games, that the only real contest would be between Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze from Russia, the nation that had dominated the event for years, and Canada, whose newcomers Jamie Salé and David Pelletier suddenly threatened to become gold medalists. Both teams skated their hearts out. What transpired next was a judging scandal unprecedented in skating, a sport that was already steeped in corruption.

That's just one of the sagas in the Netflix production Bad Sport. Using archival footage and candid interviews, this documentary series offers six episodes, each a tale of scandal in which someone goes off the rails and succumbs to a greed they never thought they had in them. Or maybe they did.

The series is captivating, even if you know nothing about the particular sport. I was unaware a person could go to Las Vegas to bet on college sports (or that it's only worthwhile if said person already has large sums of cash). Yet the episode about game-throwing in college basketball is about so much more — tackling the human cost of these operations, looking at what happens to cash-strapped kids on sports scholarships who don't have enough to eat. It raises questions about who makes money in sports and who should make money. Other tales of corruption include drug smuggling in car racing, a horse hitman and match fixing in cricket. The fountain of sports scandals is not in danger of going dry, so I'm betting Netflix won't stop with just one season. TVMA.

Kristin Kirby (she/her) is a freelance journalist living in Arcata.

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Kristin Kirby

Kristin Kirby

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Kristin Kirby is a freelance journalist living in Arcata.

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