Bye Bye Blues is one of those movies tailor-made to be a sleeper hit, as indeed it was at the recent Seattle International Film Festival.
It’s indendentIy made, serious about its intentions, rich in period detail and tells the story of a woman finding herself during an enforced separation from her husband.
Which is to say; for my tastes at least, there’s something a bit goody-goody about the whole thing, something just too cozy and politically correct about it all. I lodge this gripe, the better to note that Bye Bye Blues really is a good movie with a lot going in its favor. But it does tend to evaporate when it’s over.
This Canadian production opens in India, 1941, where a Canadian military officer (Michael Ontkean, immortal now as sheriff Harry S. Truman in TV’s Twin Peaks) receives orders to ship out to the war zone, thus sending his wife Daisy (Rebecca Jenkins) and their child home to Alberta.
After settling into small-town life, Daisy is terrified by the news that her husband’s squadron has been taken captive by the Japanese. Over the following years, without ever knowing whether he’s alive or dead, she must carve out her own life and support her children. This leads her to join a local swing band as pianist and singer, which puts her in the proximity of a romantic horn player (Luke Reilly).
It also takes her away from her children, when the band gains enough popularity to warrant touring. It is intriguing that writer-director Anne Wheeler has based this movie on fictionalized memories of her own mother’s career during World War II, and yet the element of the film that gets short shrift is the effect of the mother’s absence on her children. There’s something missing here. Daisy’s blossoming may be laudable, but at what cost?
The film tends to poke along, but Wheeler has a good eye for backcountry landscapes and 1940s design, and Jenkins gives a spunky performance (the festival audience voted her the best actress award). In other words: a sleeper.
First published in The Herald, June (?) 1990
Embraced by the SIFF audience, which I guess rubbed me the wrong way. Funny that this movie isn’t better known – but maybe it is? Wheeler has stayed in the Canadian directing world for years, and Jenkins’ work includes Bob Roberts and Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell.