the starling – marketing recap

How Netflix is selling a story of grief, love and Metaphor Birds.

The Starling poster

The Starling, streaming now on Netflix, stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd as Lilly and Jack, a married couple who are in the midst of a rough patch in their relationship. Jack is in an institution working to come to terms with the grief he feels following the death of their child (it’s unclear if it was a miscarriage or came later) while Lilly has to continue on through life without him. Helping her on the outside is Dr. Larry Fine (Kevin Kline), a former counselor now working as a veterinarian.

announcement and casting

McCarthy and O’Dowd were cast as the leads in mid-2019, reuniting them with their St. Vincent director. Others were added to the lineup later that year.

While the movie was still in post-production Netflix reportedly acquired distribution rights.

the marketing

In June news came that the film would screen at the Toronto Film Festival ahead of a limited theatrical release followed by wide availability on Netflix.

The trailer (1.8m views on YouTube) was finally released in late August. As it starts we see Lilly is working to adjust to life with Jack in a facility to deal with his issues. Lilly has her own problems, though, and is referred to Dr. Fine despite him no longer being a counselor. The couple are working through their problems and, with Fine’s help, trying to find new ways to be a couple after experiencing a common loss.

Shortly after that the planned TIFF premiere took place, but the reviews and word of mouth that came out were decidedly mixed if not outright negative.

The poster came out in mid-September, just a week or so before the movie was available. The focus here is on Lilly as she lays in her garden, the starling of the title perched on her shoulder. Everything about the design is meant to convey heartfelt emotions, right down to the serif-heavy font and the soft colors of the sky in the background.

McCarthy appeared on “The Late Show” to talk about the movie, including the technical difficulties involved in acting against an invisible bird and more. A later interview with her had her sharing her own experiences as a mom and with wild animals along with more.

An interview with Melfi had him talking about shooting parts of the movie with the actors in different locations due to the conflicting schedules as well as how he worked to change the perspective of the original script to focus more on McCarthy’s character.

Just prior to release Netflix put out a clip expanding on a scene between Lilly and Dr. Fine talking about the grieving process.

overall

The campaign’s major obstacle to overcome are the aforementioned negative reviews, which have just continued since Toronto and currently give the film a paltry 22% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Whether it achieves that goal is questionable. McCarthy and O’Dowd are two incredibly likeable, charismatic actors and having Kline batting clean up is never a bad thing. Everything in the marketing makes it clear that the characters are all dealing with big emotions and having difficult conversations, so your reaction to the trailer et al will likely depend on how attractive that all seems.

Author: Chris Thilk

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist with over 15 years of experience in online strategy and content marketing. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

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