For a movie to be inspired by or use a real-life tragedy as a primary factor in its story, the filmmakers have to justify their utilization well. Not only does Songbird fail to do this, a film using an ever-evolving case of COVID-19 as its crux, but Adam Mason’s movie proves that there shouldn’t be a film centring around this pandemic (or something like it) for a very, very long time. Educational tools (Totally Under Control) and products of satire are exceptions. But, thrillers verging on the apocalypse? I don’t think so.
The conflict in Songbird, aside from its topical subject matter, centres on a young romance on the brink of collapse during a post-modern pandemic. A worldwide virus (now known as COVID-23) is deadlier than ever, with sanitation teams showing up immediately as soon as someone shows symptoms. If the subject tests positive for COVID-23, the sanitation squad forcibly escorts them (and anyone within close contact) to quarantine camps. We only catch glimpses of the quarantine camps from a birds-eye view and if you told me the shots were actually B-roll of Guantanamo Bay, you would fool me. But even the suggestion of this comparison to exist already warrants a red flag about Songbird – it’s a collection of glaring, insensitive misrepresentations used for entertainment purposes.
For viewers, considering COVID-19 is a global issue that we’re still comprehending and reeling from with no real end in sight, it’s still too soon to accept a film that’s willing to embellish on details without any real nuance. There isn’t any substance or purpose behind these decisions, except only to irresponsibly fear-monger. There’s also an inappropriate undercurrent of anarchist behaviour that seems to taint this romantic-thriller. The socially-distanced couple, Nico (Riverdale’s K.J. Apa) and Sara (Disney’s rising star Sofia Carson) who have been anticipating each other’s embrace, devise a plan to escape the moustache-twirling sanitation crew when Sara’s grandmother (Elpidia Carrillo) becomes ill.
Meanwhile, a tacky subplot involving a dysfunctional family living through the pandemic pads out the runtime. Here, the anarchy undertones are replaced with cynicism. Unfaithful husband William (Bradley Whitford) sneaks outside of his self-isolation while his wife Piper (Demi Moore) tends to their immune-diffiencet daughter Emma (Lia McHugh). William’s been messing around with May (Alexandra Daddario), an online personality who has accumulated a following through her music while also willingly prostituting herself on the side. If the unpredictability of 2020 could be summed up in a single movie scene, it could be the moment when May leaves a sleazy motel bathroom in lingerie and PPE headgear.
Does anyone need Songbird? It’s an inconsiderate, slapdash cash-in that no one was clamouring for. It adds no insight to the current worldwide climate or the action-thriller genre, and it seems to only exist to secure its spot as “the first movie to incorporate COVID” into its narrative, and the first one to shoot during the pandemic. It’s unclear if the movie snags that famous notoriety (Love in Dangerous Times may have it beat), but Songbird will forever be known for its more infamous qualities.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie