2020 is not an enjoyable year for humanity. Most of the countries are still fighting the deadly pandemic, the death rate is getting higher, and people are complaining about governments’ chaotic, irresponsible response.
When the world is still suffered from the global disease, “Songbird”, produced by Michael Bay, is a movie about pandemic (thanks, what a great intention), and is sold as the first studio film shot in Los Angeles during the lockdown. Set in the year 2024, the film is an alternative reality of the COVID-19. The virus has mutated into deadlier COVID-23 and has already killed millions of people. Under martial law, the entire country has been in total lockdown for hundreds of weeks, and people who are infected will be sent into an overcrowded refugee camp known as “Q-Zones”.
Only people who are immune to the virus can walk around the city with a yellow bracelet as proof. Nico (K.J. Apa from “Riverdale”) is one of the lucky ones, who works for a delivery company owned by Lester (Craig Robinson) and delivers packages to households. Turns out, delivery is a high-demand business when the majority of the population is not allow to step out their house. One of Nico’s clients is Sara (Sofia Carson from “The Descendants” franchise), a beautiful young woman who lives with her grandma. The two lovebirds never meet each other physically but have a strong emotional connection through screens and between Sara’s front door.
With nearly 90 minutes of runtime, writer/director Adam Mason adds more characters in his “Magnolia-style” pandemic sci-fi thriller. There is a wealthy couple (played by Bradley Whitford and Demi Moore) whose marriage is on the edge of divorce; A live-streaming singer May (played Alexandra Daddario) who was stuck in Los Angeles when the virus outbreak and happens to have an affair with Whitford’s character (they have an unsettling sex scene); A quirky tech-nerd, also a disabled veteran, (played by Paul Walter Hauser) who is May’s biggest fan. Most of these characters don’t know each other but somehow connected at some points (you get it: Magnolia-style).
It’s a film produced by Michael Bay, so you can foresee these characters are all emotionless, yet there’s always a clock ticking behind. The plot kicks in when Sara’s grandma is detected by the mobile scanning device that she’s infected (man, we really need that technology right now). The “Department of Sanitation”, lead by the mad Peter Stormare, is about to bust down the door and take Sara and grandma to Q-Zones. Nico has no choice but runs after the time to save his lover before it’s too late.
Before the film is going to be released by VOD on December 11, people are criticizing the studio for making a film about deadly COVID and depicting health authority as an evil antagonist (can you imagine someone blast Dr. Fauci when he’s trying to save our country? Wait…the President just did). However, these are not my points here. I’m not judging its political commentary. When a filmmaker decides to make a film about a pandemic and shot it during the pandemic, at least I want to see something provocative or something entertaining. Unfortunately, “Songbird” fails to do so. The plot is empty and lacks empathy (no spoiler, but several scenes are very hard to watch when you think of thousands of people are dying every day in reality), even the high-stacks are disappointingly low.
It’s impressive that someone can make a film at this moment when you realize that the film was pitched, wrote, shot, post, and released during the lockdown. The well-managed production workflow of “Songbird” can be an inspiring case study for future filmmaking, but that doesn’t mean we have to lower our basic standard to truly appreciate the cinema as an art form or as escapism. I believe there will be countless fictional films using pandemic as the topic in the future. “Songbird” will be one of the most forgettable among all.
- Distributor: STX Films
- Production: STX Films, Invisible Narratives, Platinum Dunes, and Catchlight Films
- Director: Adam Mason
- Writer: Adam Mason and Simon Boyes
- Producer: Michael Bay, Marcei A. Brown, Jason Clark, Eben Davidson, Adam Goodman, Jessica Malanaphy, Rick Osako, Andrew Sugerman, and Jeanette Volturno
- Cast: K.J. Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser, and Demi Moore
- “Songbird” will be available On Demand on December 11
Read the review in Chinese