‘Blackbird’ showcases Susan Sarandon as a family copes with a fatal illness

“Blackbird” assembles a terrific cast in the service of fairly mundane movie — a small-boned production about a woman facing a terminal diagnosis, summoning her family to say goodbye. The premise and performers yield some emotional moments, inadvertently heightened by recent events. Yet as a whole, the film never quite takes wing.

Susan Sarandon is Lily, whose shuffling, strenuous effort just to get up and down the stairs reveal the way that ALS is ravaging her body. Before the condition worsens, she plans to quietly take her own life with the help of her husband (Sam Neill), but not before spending the weekend in their idyllic beach house with her family.

The situation is, at first, pleasantly awkward, and an ideal independent-film concept — putting a group of people together in a single location for a very finite period of time. That creates not only an inexpensive showcase for the actors, but little to distract from their contributions.

As “Blackbird” unfolds, though, there’s a too-familiar quality to the feelings that come spilling out, including old resentments and conflicts brought to the fore regarding Lily’s grown daughters — one (Kate Winslet) a tightly wound mom, the other (Mia Wasikowska) still finding herself — each there with a partner, as well as a few secrets.

Directed by Roger Michell (“My Cousin Rachel”), this remake of the 2014 Danish film “Silent Heart” occasionally puts a lump in your throat, such as when Lily asks her longtime friend (Lindsay Duncan) to “look after my girls.” The conversation also drifts into the biggest of themes about the question of choosing to end one’s life and what might await her — indeed, everyone — after.

The cast is quite good, although the movie could wind up as a 2020 afterthought for Winslet, who’s again earning award buzz for her featured role in the upcoming “Ammonite.” The moral question, meanwhile, is complicated a bit by the fact Sarandon — however polarizing she might be off screen — projects a vitality that belies her 70-plus years and Lily’s condition.

Setting that aside, the idea all this unfolds within a weekend feels a trifle contrived, which might explain why the movie labors down the back stretch.

Of course, that might not blunt the emotional effects for those who have experienced losing a parent or dealt with the matter of how to bid farewell — a scenario logistically exacerbated for many amid this age of Covid-19.

“Blackbird” inadvertently benefits from the way those connections — bonds with family, the pain of loss and learning to let go — have been tested in these trying times, and the notion of identifying what’s truly important. “Love is all there is,” Lily tells her family, as she tries to help them let go.

In life, there’s surely something in that philosophy. In the movies, there ought to be a little more to it than “Blackbird” finally delivers.

“Blackbird” will premiere via Fathom Events on Sept. 14 and 15, and in theaters and digital on Sept. 18.


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