Saturday, November 8, 2014

Birdman: Movie Review

Flying away from the weight of ego, success and celebrity with humour, intelligence and ambition.
Birdman the incredibly ambitious film about celebrity, fame, popularity, acting, creating, fatherhood, relationships, death, media and the overwhelming weight of ego is indeed about all of that. Micheal Keaton as Riggan Thomson is the titular Birdman, a popular fictional superhero in the vain of Batman, Spiderman or Iron Man, but that was decades ago and now Riggan is a washed up former superhero hanging onto to the last vestiges of celebrity and who he knows himself as. 2014

Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Screenplay by: Alejandro Gonzales Inarrituo, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Armando Bo

Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis and Emma Stone

Riggan only knows himself as Birdman and as an actor. So he’s going to turn his life-long love for acting and turn it into creating – writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play. The play focuses on love and lost love with hints of alcoholism and ego taking over one’s life. The complexity of the film’s script should start becoming clear about now. This is meta within meta, where life imitates art imitates life imitates art, or at least some combination of that because it is intensely smart and interwoven.

Keaton is of course celebrated for playing Batman, and although I would prefer not to think of him as a washed up actor, this is him reclaiming his form of brilliance as an actor who wholly embodies the character he is playing (and, yes, that describes Riggan as well). The beginning of the movie is around a day before previews start before the play officially opens and disaster is befalling the production. They are in need of a new lead actor and they are left to just hope that somebody great will knock on their door. Enter Edward Norton as famed actor Mike.

In another example of meta, Norton plays a notoriously difficult but brilliant actor. One who consistently turns in great performances but makes life as difficult as possible for his director and fellow actors. Mike is the spark that Riggan needs to turn his play into a more important work of art. Norton is also the spark that the film needs to turn it from an important work of art into an endlessly entertaining piece of comedy and insightful brilliance.

To make Birdman a more accessible film, the script incorporates many elements of comedy. The sophomoric humour balances out the intelligence of the film so well, that one would not feel ashamed to have laughed at all the below-the-belt jokes and Mike’s unending love of his male body part as well as the female posterior.

The rest of the cast includes Naomi Watts as Lesley, Mike’s on-stage partner and off-screen former partner; Emma Stone as Sam, Riggan’s daughter and washed-up former drug-addict; Andrea Riseborough as Laura, Riggan’s leading lady who’s on-stage love affair echoes their off-stage love-affair; and Zach Galifianakis as Jake, Riggan’s agent/manager/producer/lawyer who tries to keep him grounded with his life on track, but Riggan is Birdman after all so the proves to be next to impossible. Jake is also the sanest character, so a welcome change for Galifianakis.

The significance of Birdman and what makes this completely unique and insanely ambitious is that it is shot as if it’s all one take. The actions of the film do take place over multiple days and there will be a number of edits, especially when the camera turns upwards and watches the sky turn from day to night to day, but the opening sequence and many throughout the film appear to be one long continuous shot.

Pictures courtesy of Fox Searchlight.
The effect is accomplished by having the camera following Riggan and his fellow cast and crew throughout real Broadway theater, the St. James, from dressing room to stage back to dressing room. It gives the film a very frenetic feel and can be hard to get used to, but it also echoes Riggan’s anxiety before the play begins and Birdman’s inability to stay grounded when he feels his life and fame slipping away.

Riggan can be referred to by name or Birdman interchangeably because Birdman is still Riggan’s alter-ego. In his Birdman voice, he tells himself everything that’s wrong with his life and continually knocks himself down so his confidence is as low as his popularity, but Birdman also reminds him that he’s a superhero, and at times, the film turns into a super-hero action movie (for one scene) and this piece of surrealism as Riggan allows himself to be Birdman.

Birdman the film allows itself to be everything and anything at once and it works. It is funny and unique and insightful about the fleeting concepts of fame, celebrity, life, death, love and ability to be a superhero.
Best of 2014

Similar Titles:

Obvious Child (2014) - Surpassing the romantic comedy genre with hilarity.

Maps to the Stars (2014) - Lost in a world of fame, tragedy, celebrity and incest.