“Gallup just gave us the highest rating ever for the way we are handling the CoronaVirus situation.”
Donald Trumpon Twitter (5 March 2020), two months after first reported US infections and eight months before he lost the 2020 election
*[NOTE: I saw Songbird the evening of 9 December 2020 as part of an online advanced screening from STX Entertainment.]
Is anyone besides me old enough to remember the lambada craze of 1989? It’s okay if you don’t, as it ended as quickly as it began. In short, the close-contact Latin-American dance had suddenly gained recognition in the US, where pearl-clutchers of the Bush Era (the first one) latched onto its Carimbó-origin label as “the forbidden dance”.
The white folks who weren’t condemning this Latinx-born-method-of-remind-the-world-that-sex-is-a-thing were quick to exploit it. That’s how Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus – the now-competing founders of schlock-factory Cannon Films – wound up releasing competing lambada flicks on the same day of March 1990. Both were cheaply produced on the fly, both were confused for the other, and both were quickly-forgotten flops that vanished faster than the very trend they were months late on exploiting.
The COVID-19 era is in an odd place right now, with vaccines just now being distributed publicly as we dumb yanks traverse a new post-Thanksgiving surge. Yet, even if both of those facts weren’t currently true – they are, as is global warming, the lack of a vaccine-autism link, and Joe Biden’s election victory – the movie Songbird would still feel instantly dated. Pitched in March and shot in June, every frame of it reeks of the sort of “ripped from the headlines” made-for-tv crap that reached it apex in the ‘90s (flicks about Amy Fisher, OJ, and the Menendez brothers come to mind) before finding new life as the uniformly worst episodes of the Law & Order franchise.
The year is 2024 and the novel coronavirus continues to mutate into a fully airborne strain, forcing a significant amount of the population to remain indoors at all times. People being people (especially Americans), many have found ways to exploit the pandemic for profit: delivery services; internet personalities; and even former city employees. All of these folks’ lives come crashing together over the course of a few days in Los Angeles.
And… that’s it. That’s the entire plot.
It’s only been a few hours since I watched this piece of shit, but I can remember the exact moment I was ready to check out. It wasn’t the Purge-like opening title sequence that proved producer Michael Bay is still ripping off himself and others; it wasn’t the wooden-block performance of lead actor KJ Apa; nor was it the horrible dialogue, bad editing, film school-level cinematography, or the already-wasted-in-the-roles early scenes featuring Demi Moore, Bradley Whitford, Craig Robinson, and Alexandra Daddario.
Oh no, what really killed it for me was an early scene in which our “hero” is stopped by a military roadblock. He’s a delivery biker on his way to fulfill an order when he comes across the roadblock. They see he isn’t wearing a mask, so they naturally prepare to fill him full of lead until he shows off his bracelet that identifies him as having immunity. They let him leave, with one of the soldiers shouting “‘Muni scum!” at him.
I could have – nay, should have – stopped the screener right there, closed the browser, and done, I dunno, anything else. But I didn’t. I watched this turd to the very end. Through the chemistry-free romance of Apa and Sofia Carson that’s meant to drive the story, through the sleepwalking performances of Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford as a rich married couple who can’t stand one another but share a daughter who’s highly susceptible to the virus, and through a genuinely good performance by Alexandra Daddario.
I’m not kidding: she seems to be the only one trying to inject her character with any humanity. She doesn’t do anything Oscar-worthy, but she must not have gotten the memo that this flick will be forgotten days after it’s officially released, because the wide-eyed actress really wants to do the best with what little she’s given. She plays May, a
YouTube EyeSeeYouSee (fuckin’ really?) personality who spends her days performing acoustic covers. By night, she’s a sex worker who performs in-person(!) lap dances whilst wearing an N-95 mask, a plastic face shield, a pink wig, and lingerie.
Meanwhile, you have Peter Stormare replaying his Minority Report performance in the role of head of the sanitation department, which is now apparently an arm of the LAPD SWAT division. You also have Craig Robinson being Craig Robinson as KJ Apa’s boss and the owner of the indie delivery service for which Apa works.
Throughout it all, there’s never any real sense of danger connected with this new strain of the virus. One is tempted to say, “That’s the point: human reaction is a lot more dangerous,” but that’s no more true than any of those bullshit attempts to argue Showgirls is an intentional satire and work of genius (it’s not and it never will be – get over it). Songbird is an impotent “No mask!” screed against imaginary government overreach. It’s the sort of flick made by guys who think reopening McDonald’s is more important than the cashier getting the virus from a huffing customer – despite of what the evidence clearly shows.
You can’t say that this flick was made before new info came out because it was made at a point when we already knew enough to have the massive lockdowns to begin with. No, this was made by guys who think Stormare’s violent-nutjob government lackey is dangerous, but a random right-wing violent-nutjob without a mask is a hero for saving Apa from the world’s dumbest armed cops.
And I haven’t even gotten into the overt “cheapness” of the whole thing. This is SyFy-level schlock through and through: the unimaginative camera angles; the first-year-design-school-level look of all the logos; the use of what-are-clearly-iPads for official door-mounted intercoms. If this actually were a student film, I could forgive – and might actually applaud – that sort of ingenuity. Not so for a flick that clearly had millions poured into it to attract this level of name-recognizable stars and a producer of Bay’s stature.
Songbird presents a 2024 where the virus still rages on, but the movie takes a position in favor of the ignorance that’s kept the virus proliferating in the real world. I optimistically expect the real 2024 to have controlled the virus enough to where panic-porn like this will be all the more dated. We certainly won’t forget the virus, but I’ve already forgotten this shitty movie.