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When co-writer/director Adam Mason’s thriller Songbird was announced, the world seemed against the idea from the start. Taking the COVID-19 pandemic and turning it into a fictionalized thriller was something many people feared, as the move was rife with the possibility of venturing into insensitive territory. In a way, the reality of Songbird is a success, as the Michael Bay-produced movie isn’t the tone deaf viral thriller many expected it to be. At the same time, though, that win comes at a cost, as despite the intriguing performances on display, the total picture falls flat in its execution.
Set in a near-future LA, where the COVID-23 virus continues to mutate, Songbird’s reality sees lockdown very much in effect. Daily temperature checks are taken through a government mandated app, and the Department of Sanitation runs the show, striking fear into the citizens who just want to make it through the day. Those immune to the virus are pretty much granted free reign, as we see with Nico (K.J. Apa), a bike courier saving up to buy immunity bracelets for his girlfriend Sara (Sofia Carson) and her grandmother. But when Sara’s grandmother becomes ill with COVID-23, that plan is derailed into a race against the clock that sees Nico trying to save his true love from what seems like certain death.
The scope of Songbird is impressive, considering the circumstances of its production.
Quite possibly the most impressive factor about Songbird is the fact that its intercutting narrative is the slickest production we’ve seen in the pandemic era. What could have very easily been a found footage driven project with very little technological requirements has been executed in such a way that Songbird truly feels like it was shot before film sets were shut down. Director Adam Mason takes full advantage of every tool at his disposal, and the results speak for themselves.
Cast with some very impressive names, like Demi Moore, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Alexandra Daddario, and Paul Walter Hauser, Songbird’s interwoven stories do serve as a distraction from the world of today. Playing out in their own individual spheres of influence, the connected narrative that Mason co-scripted with Simon Boyes helps make the world of their slightly exaggerated pandemic more of a universe of its own – which makes the fact that the story doesn’t live up to the performances and the execution a very disappointing sight to see.
While not as insensitive as predicted, Songbird’s story is skin deep.
It would have been really easy for Songbird to veer off into more insensitive territory, and you can sense it with the limited, but pointed commentary that’s present in the film. with YouTube conspiracy theories, and a chain of corruption that goes straight to the top of the Department of Sanitation both factoring greatly into the tale being told. Even with a plot thread that sees Demi Moore's and Bradley Whitford’s characters' family depicted as black market providers of the crucial passes that allow registered “Munies,” there’s a very obvious potential for the “haves and have nots” message of Songbird to get too heavy handed.
The blunt delivery of its message avoids being crass, but it also skips over being interesting. Trying to put a message of hope into the world is admirable, and that’s what Songbird mostly tries to do, but with the central romance angle between Nico and Sara lacking the gravity to glue everything else in their orbit together. As a result, certain pieces end up looking stronger than others. If the drama with the main family was the nucleus of this story, everything else may have worked better. As it stands, the love story that takes center stage is still sweet, but it can’t carry the movie.
Songbird’s heart is in the right place, but its thematic content can’t carry a tune.
Being the first blockbuster out of the gate in the COVID-19 pandemic, Songbird is at best a flashy distraction from the reality we’re currently experiencing. Its avoidance of tackling any of the hot button issues stemming from current events works in its favor, as the overall narrative is accessible for all who approach it. That advantage is a double edged sword, though, as what ends up on the screen is a toothless commentary on pandemic living, with a message of hope that feels more watered down than anything else. Think of Songbird as the “Imagine” viral video the internet savaged: it’s a wasted opportunity that manages to rope in some very talented people into doing the best they can. It’s admirable, but something is missing to really make the end result a worthy cause.
Songbird doesn't need to be berated for being a soulless cash grab, as it’s actually trying to do something. Instead, I would express solemn disappointment, because I went into this film thinking it would be a wild but interesting failure, and instead was met with modest returns. The good news is that you probably won’t be offended by Songbird’s pandemic drama, and it’s a good proof of concept that making large scale action films in a pandemic restricted world definitely can be done. The downside is that you’ll probably find yourself immune to its supposed charms.