Latter-day Saint Video Vault: “Love is for the Byrds” is No Valentine

Love is for the Byrds

Latter-day Saint Video Vault celebrates decades of uplifting, funny, weird, and sometimes cringe-worthy Mormon-related videos, most of which are now found on YouTube. Join Jared Jones every other Friday as he breaks down one of these classics.

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ove is in the air! Whether you celebrate Valentine’s, Galentine’s or Single Awareness Day (I did for many years) or simply turn a blind eye to February 14, I thought Love is for the Byrds was a fitting title for this “wuv, twoo wuv” time of year.

Love is for the Byrds was released in 1965. Before it was released to video the church added the following disclaimer we’ve seen before on other films: “The following film was produced by Brigham Young University during the 1960s for general distribution to both Church and non-Church groups. Although the general principles are valid, the presentation does not represent all Church areas of emphasis.”

Because the film was designed for church and non-church audiences, there is no official branding in the film. The scene we see of them in church could be any church and the husband even kicks back one evening with a beer. All that aside, the film is a focus on marital communication through the lens of fictional Tom and Donna Byrd’s married life.

The film opens on preparations for a beautiful outdoor wedding. Bunting, chairs, tables and a trellis are being placed just so by the soon-to-be-wed bride’s mother, Helen. Her pre-wedding focus is disturbed by her husband complaining that there is no breakfast fixed for him. He can’t even find the eggs because of all the flowers in the fridge for pity’s sake! Helen said there is work to do and he can fend for himself.

He goes inside and Donna, the bride, helps find the eggs and starts fixing breakfast for her father. Her dad comments that her mother has always been upset she didn’t marry a handyman. There has always been a gap of understanding between them. “After all these years she can’t seem to forgive me for not being the person she thought I was.”

As Donna makes breakfast she thinks about what married life will be like. Her parents’ issues will not be her issues. Her fiancé will be his sweet self and read poetry to her by the open fireplace. They will take long walks—they will need them to discuss Donna’s list as it goes on and on.

Breaking with wedding tradition Tom shows up unexpectedly and sees Donna in her housecoat and hair bonnet. She seeks refuge in the pantry while Tom takes over the breakfast preparation. I thought, well he is cooking the eggs, perhaps he isn’t a bad one (see what I did there?). We begin to hear his expectations of married life and my expectations for him quickly go downhill. He envisioned Donna darning socks, broiling a steak the way he likes it and making gravy without lumps. Oh, and pushing the grocery cart through the store without breaking the bank. “You’re a lucky guy, Tom. You’re getting married today,” he says to himself.

And thus we see the central challenge in the marriage before it even happens. Both have dramatically different and unrealistic ideas of what marriage will be like. We cut to images of the wedding photos and them heading on their honeymoon complete with a graffiti bedecked car with “Fools Never Learn” scrawled on the side. Charming.

Next we see Donna setting the table for a dinner. Tom’s parents are coming over and Tom asks if there is anything he can do to help. Donna suggests he tidy the bathroom, but he returns aghast that Donna has stockings hanging in there to dry. “My mother wouldn’t be caught dead with underwear hanging in the bathroom!” Comparing a wife to your own mother is always a winning recipe. Take note. A quarrel ensues and their two love birds in a bird cage also begin fighting. They end the fight quickly as Tom’s parents arrive and laugh as they quickly make up in the kitchen—sure that all fights will end as quickly.

Life moves on and we see them putting away pair after pair of shoes. They have 4 kids now. They put the kids to bed, Tom pops a cold one and then sits down to read the paper in a front room littered with child detritus. Donna arrives a few minutes later and begins cleaning up the toys and comments on the mess and the lack of playroom. She switches to an internal monologue and feels ignored. Tom has no time for her and focuses on his work or the kids. Donna needs some adult conversation in the day and remembers the time when they used to talk and spend time with each other. She begins to act like a little child hoping to get attention but Tom is perplexed. What has he done? She runs to the bedroom and cries.

Tom follows after her but then decides not to go and talk to Donna. He has had it with her not saying what is bothering her. He begins to think about the situation and realizes he didn’t help pick up the toys, and it must be hard for Donna to be here all alone with the kids day after day. He resolves to take her out for a nice evening.

We see Donna and Tom at a 60’s chic cocktail party. Suits and stylish dresses abound. Donna leaves talking with her girlfriends and goes to sit with Tom and his friends. She interrupts the conversation to get a word in and begins asking questions about the stock market and business news of the day. Tom tells her they were in the middle of a football conversation. Donna suggests dancing but he isn’t interested.

On the drive home they argue about the evening. Donna wonders why he even invited her if he didn’t want to spend time with her. She can talk to her girlfriends anytime but spending time with just him is rare. Tom wonders why she has to be so sarcastic all the time. He invited her out for a “nice evening” and she does nothing but gripe. Donna suggests Tom spend some time in her shoes, so we cut to an imagined scene of Donna treating Tom as he treated her. He reaches for her hand and she pulls away. “Why won’t she talk to me?” and “Why won’t he listen to me?” are their final thoughts of the scene.

We next see the Byrds at church singing an appropriately generic protestant hymn. The pastor preaches about the golden rule and how it is our responsibility to give love and understanding to others. Tom wonders what has happened to their marriage. They’ve grown stale and forgotten how to live together—finding ways to exclude rather to include. Donna wonders why Tom doesn’t look at her and realize she exists as his wife and include her rather than fitting her in. She appreciates the gestures and then realizes she needs to appreciate Tom as he is rather than falling short of the vision of him she has. They clasp hands and share a moment of understanding and realize they both have work to do.

The next morning, we see a chaotic breakfast scene. The baby tosses a bowl to the floor and breaks it and the oldest turns a hose on a younger sibling. Tom’s solution to this less than idyllic scene is to suggest a picnic when he gets home early from work. We then see Donna doing all her work to get things ready. A montage of cleaning, tidying and sorting all while trying to take care of the kids. It’s a lot of work. I also have 4 children and am a stay-at-home parent, and I was tired after watching.

Later at the picnic Tom lounges on a blanket and congratulates himself on the great idea of this picnic while Donna sets out food. Donna is frustrated and asks for more notice next time, or he can make his own sandwiches. She apologizes for her tone, and Tom asks what’s wrong. They finally begin to actually have a conversation but it quickly turns into old habits. Tom doesn’t listen, Donna only hears what she thinks he said and not what he actually said and so on. Donna finally admits that she had this idealized notion of what he would be like in married life. Tom admits he thought it was the wife’s role to fulfill his every need. It’s “okay” if she’s not the “perfect wife” (because Tom’s mom was clearly the perfect wife). They both recognize their tendency to attack and retreat. They agree they need to grow up and meet each other where they are. A crying child brings them back to the picnic and they agree to move forward.

At home Donna calls to Tom to get a jar of vegetable baby food warmed up for their youngest. Tom gets distracted helping another child with his shoes. Donna comes in to find no vegetable ready and snaps saying it’s just easier to do herself. Their newfound desire for communication didn’t last. Tom storms out to the living room to again retreat behind his sports page. They each have an inner monologue about what they had spoken about hours earlier. Tom heads back into the kitchen to apologize and nearly runs into Donna who is coming to apologize to him.

The film ends as the kids gather round and their oldest comments, “Look Momma, the birds are loving each other!” The happy music swells and we fade to black.

Having a shared mutual understanding of marital expectations along with open and honest communication are the only messages from Love is for the Byrds that age well. So much else in this film does not play in 2020. Tom’s vision of a wife’s role is extremely old fashioned and borders on misogynistic. Did he really expect that his wife should exist to meet his every need? How she broils a steak for him is a qualification for marriage? Donna’s expectations have the benefit of both less sexist as well as unpractical. Did she actually believe that she was marrying a Robert Browning sweater with elbow patches man? Her frustration and anger throughout the film was warranted, but I feel the writers were definitely kinder to Tom and gave him more moments of self-realization. Donna was often just sarcastic and did not realize her errors as much as Tom realized his.

Tom and Donna are each right and wrong. Their desire and motives are good but their execution is poor. Really, we don’t like either of them and are left with little hope they are on the path back to love.

So may your Valentine’s Day have more love than the Byrds. It won’t take much.


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