Bye Bye Birdie
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this 1963 movie musical is rated G, but the adolescent-hormone focus of the plot may not be as age-appropriate for early-elementary-aged kids. There's nothing overt or explicit, but the amount of innuendo and the emphasis on high-school romances and celebrity crushes would probably earn this musical a PG rating now. There's some innuendo that will go over little kids' heads -- teenage girls swooning, screaming, and literally fainting in the presence of an attractive singer. Close-up shots of the singer's Elvis-style pelvic-thrusts and references to going steady, kissing, and engagement are prevalent throughout the movie. Otherwise, there's little that parents need to think twice about in the high-school musical.
What's the story?
In a clear nod to Elvis Presley, the hugely popular 1950's rock 'n' roll singer Conrad Birdie (Jesse Pearson) is drafted into the U.S. Army, much to the widespread dismay of his loyal, hysterical teenage fan base. Songwriter Albert Peterson (Dick Van Dyke), who contributed to Birdie's early success, agrees to a plan hatched by his secretary and girlfriend Rosie (Janet Leigh) to have Birdie perform a song penned by Albert on the Ed Sullivan Show, to be followed by a publicity stunt in which the singer bestows one final kiss to a fan before heading off to his military duty. The lucky girl chosen to receive the kiss is the lovely red-head Kim MacAfee (Ann-Margret), to the chagrin of her uptight father Harry (Paul Lynde) and "steady" boyfriend Hugo (singer Bobby Rydell). Albert and Rosie take Birdie to Kim's small hometown in Ohio, where the local teenage girls all swoon over Birdie, while the boys consider him a threat. In preparation for the big performance, Birdie's presence shakes up all of the relationships around him -- from Albert and Rosie, who are engaged but still not married, to the bickering married Mr. and Mrs. MacAfee (Mary LaRoche) to Hugo and Kim, who must overcome his jealousy to stay together.
Is it any good?
Although the musical includes a couple of recognizable showtunes that get stuck in your head -- most notably Kids (you know it: "What's the matter with kids today?") -- it hasn't stayed in the teen zeitgeist (save for the occasional middle-school production) like the far superior Grease. The movie is campy (the fact that Lynde is in it doubles the camp factor) fun, and it's always a treat to see Van Dyke and Leigh -- not to mention the gorgeous young Ann-Margret in her break-through role. But, this is not one of Broadway's most memorable musicals, and the movie adaptation is the equivalent of Disney's High School Musical -- incredibly popular for its day but without real staying power to anyone who's not a big musicals fan.
What does have staying power is the message that kids can be altogether too obsessed with celebrities, to the point of causing true befuddlement to their parents' generation. That aspect of adolescence has only intensified over the years. Decades before Facebook and MySpace made it easy for all of Robert Pattinson's fans to gush over their favorite actor, all teens had were their mail-in fan-clubs and communal hysteria at watching the Ed Sullivan Show, and that's what makes this musical humorous to anyone who has experienced a serious celebrity crush. Birdie is a stand-in for everyone from Elvis (who is obviously being parodied) to the Fab Four to Michael Jackson to today's dozens of musical icons, so despite the dated elements to the musical, the song Kids is one of those anthems any parent can sing -- no matter how hypocritical it may sound.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about the evergreen message that teenagers and their pop-culture interests are at odds with their parents' generation.
How are teenage relationships depicted in this musical? How do teenage couples seem different nowadays?
Why are high-school musicals so popular? Is there multi-generational appeal to watching movies/musicals about high-school romances?
How have teenagers' interests in celebrities changed since the '50s and '60s? Are teens still obsessed with musicians?