by Brad Nelson
This is a movie I wondered if it was even worth bothering to review. There is such a large cultural divide between those who think movie “style” is slow-motion blood spurting out of a body cavity to a hip soundtrack and those for whom cool is personified in Bogie and Bacall. Not that I ever tried that hard, but I’ve given up trying to convince the New Bond Crowd that the Old Bond was much better. You can’t argue taste. You can only cultivate it and enjoy it.
If a sense of irony is a post-execution smart-aleck comment said over someone’s dead body, you may not be capable of the subtlety needed to understand good comedy. For many, Bye Bye Birdie is “camp” and they know not the difference between unintentional camp and intentional camp. They know not the difference between being in on the joke and the joke itself. So this review isn’t for you. If Bye Bye Birdie is just a stupid movie to you, please move on. Go enjoy your New Bond. Buh-bye now.
The rest of you can read on and you can be in on the joke. But, aack, even my own older brother wasn’t quite in on the joke when he watched this with me. Ann-Margrock belts out the opening overture in an intentionally campy, amateurish voice and he thought Ann-Margrock just wasn’t much of a singer. (I soon set him straight, as did the movie itself later on where Ann sings up a storm.)
This movie is not for nitwits. As campy as it is, Bye Bye Birdie is rich in subtlety and more than a little sexual innuendo and imagery. (Love the mini Washington Monument, for example, that is just outside the school entrance.) Surely you will notice that Jesse Pearson is supposed to be playing a parody of a teen idol who may be high on animal magnetism but is a bit short on talent.
Surely you will appreciate the production value of a number of extraordinarily well done song-and-dance numbers including “Honestly Sincere” (a marvelous send-up of romantic crooners), “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” (one of the musical highlights of any musical in memory), “One Boy,” “Kids,” and the campy and wonderful “The Telephone Hour.”
Topping it off is the somewhat forgettable song that includes some nice athletic moves from Janet Leigh and her dancers. And if you don’t have a big grin on your face when Dick van Dyke sings “Put on a Happy Face,” you’re just not human.
Still, appreciating any or all of that is a tall order for generations of kids brought up on excessive sex and violence as the norm. To actually step back and view something a little more innocent is perhaps impossible. This art form may now be all but dead, but Bye Bye Birdie is an extraordinary example of how much talent you need, and how hard you have to work, if you are to hold an audience without using f-bombs and gallons of blood. It can be done. Bye Bye Birdie does that in spades.
This is also a historically important film since it is the jumping-off point for Ann-Margrock becoming a major star. Perhaps the same can be said for Paul Lynde who is at his best as Ann-Margrock’s father. And goofy teen idol (goofy to me, at least) Bobby Ridell plays goofy Hugo Peobody who pins Ann-Margrock in the back seat of his car. Maybe I should rephrase that. Oh, fohgettaboutit. You’ll have to see the movie.
And if you enjoy just downright awesome physical female beauty, then feast your eyes on over an hour and a half of Ann-Margrock and the stunningly beautiful Janet Leigh who is handicapped only by a couple hairstyles that even Jackie Kennedy probably wouldn’t have touched.
Bye Bye Birdie is a re-watchable movie, not only because of the music but because of the various shtick. There’s a Little Shop of Horrors feel to it. The intentional camp adds to the viewing pleasure. When Conrad Birdie sings out “suffer” in the hilarious song “Honestly Sincere,” you had better be laughing or you’re just not getting it.
All in all, this is a terrific movie. How did I go without seeing it all these years? Probably because it was a musical, and I’m very skeptical of musicals. But if you haven’t become jaded by all the f-bombs and Spinal Tap 11 sex and violence that attempts to entertain with shock because talent and creativity are much more difficult, then give Bye Bye Birdie a try. I give it 4.0 fast turtles out of 5. • (2039 views)