Val Kilmer, here’s your future, bud.
At one point in his career, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) was on top of the movie-world. Not only was he selling movie tickets out the wahzoo by playing a superhero character by the name of “Birdman”, but his popularity was at its highest-peak where it wasn’t that fans knew exactly who he was and loved him, but because he was respected amongst his peers as well. However, that role for Riggan was quite some time ago and now, in the present-day, things aren’t going so fine for poor old Riggan. For starters, he’s washed-up and senses his popularity is waning so quickly that he could be considered practically nonexistent. He plans on changing this, though, by producing, directing and even starring in a stage-adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He’s got the cast in line and while there’s the occasional hiccup here and there, Riggan is feeling confident enough that this show will not only be a smash hit, but bring him back to the world wide hemisphere of pop-culture where everybody will know and adore him, just like they did before. Problem is, aside from the fact that the show runs into quite a few problems, is that Riggan has a voice inside of his head that not only pushes him to do certain things, but even bends the differences between fiction and reality.
Consider Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance, which is its full-title), the perfect Alejandro González Iñárritu film, for people who aren’t fans of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s work. Because see, while the impression is with all of Iñárritu’s films so far is that they are dark, depressing, and downright ugly in its depiction of human being’s lives, there’s something fairly different about Birdman. I mean, yeah, sure, it’s a meta-comedy that sometimes jumps right over that hoop into satire, making it a huge leap in terms of versatility for Iñárritu, but there’s still that sad feeling we get here with our main character, and the situation he’s thrown himself into here.
However, rather than making us ache from his pain and suffering, Iñárritu focuses most of his attention on just letting the movie itself run loose, without ever trying to hit us over the head with some random melodrama; he just lets his movie glide right along, at a perfect-pace. And considering that this movie is shot in a way to make it like one, long tracking-shot (courtesy of cinematography genius Emmanuel Lubezki), it’s a wonderful combo, albeit a very surprising one.
Because yes, if anybody out there has ever seen either Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, or all of them (like yours truly), then they’ll know Iñárritu is all about showing us that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and that, well, life can pretty much suck for everybody. But though I like most of his movies, I myself am even glad to see this change-of-pace for Iñárritu; not because it shows that he can do more than just make me want to leap off of a bridge, but because the guy’s got a perfect tendency here to just let his movie go on its own tangents, seeming as if it could practically fall apart at any moment.
Which, for a movie that’s about a Broadway play being produced and the people involved with it, seems perfectly fitting. It not only puts you on-edge practically the whole time, but gets you up, moving around, and constantly paying attention to what is happening, what is being said, and what a certain character is doing, and to whom. Which, yeah, I know, sounds incredibly obvious, but there’s something fun and vibrant about this movie that just keeps you awake here, even when it seems to go off into these strange places that I don’t even know if Iñárritu himself could fully describe in perfect, full-on detail.
You sort of just have to go with it and see where it takes you – which is a perfect summation of the whole experience I had while watching Birdman.
But even while Birdman is an exciting and rather fun movie, there’s also a couple of moments splashed throughout here where the hip b-bop score is turned off, the camera settles down (although, to be fair, it is constantly moving no matter what is going on), and Iñárritu allows us to focus in on these characters, their relationships to one another, and exactly what they should mean to us. Cause, trust me, this goes a long way for a movie as brutal and as a painstakingly honest as this.
Yes, earlier I alluded to the fact that Iñárritu has made Birdman as a comedy of sorts, but sometimes, it’s so harsh and on-point about who it’s poking its finger at, it’s almost like a horror movie. Everything and everyone from the actors to directors, assistants to lawyers, Hollywood to the stage, the Baby Boomer Generation to the current Generation Y, and hell, even from the fans to the critics – no one here is safe from the sharp-edge knife that Birdman is waving around. Which is, of course, hard to stomach at times, but incredibly hilarious that it feels like maybe Iñárritu has almost too much knowledge on the subject matters at hand and really has a grind to ax. But nonetheless, it’s a constantly hilarious that has more to say then just, “Yeah, people who act are usually pretentious dicks”. Instead, it’s more like “Yeah, people who act are usually pretentious dicks, but hey, they’re people, too.”
So yeah, it’s not all that mean.
Regardless though, where Birdman the movie really excels at, like I was getting to talk about early before is whenever Iñárritu just lets his cast do the talking for him. Sure, Iñárritu employs a directorial-style that’s, literally, all-over-the-place and constantly moving, but when he settles everything down to a low-volume and allows for his story to really tell itself, then it makes the whole experience of watching this movie all the more enjoyable, if incredibly emotional as well.
But still, if you look at the cast, there’s still some hilarity to be had; most especially with the character of Riggan Thomson. The reason being is because, well, think about this: Riggan Thomson is an aging, washed-up actor who hasn’t had a role to keep him relevant since the days of him playing a superhero-ish character back in the good old days. So yeah, it would seem pretty perfect to cast somebody like Michael Keaton in the role because, well, that’s practically his story. Which is to say that, yes, this is total stunt-casting at its most painfully obvious. But it’s stunt-casting that actually works.
This is mostly due to the fact that the role of Riggan Thomson is a rich one that finds Keaton (a favorite of mine ever since the early days of my childhood), showing all of the shades in his acting-ability; the guy can be funny, mean, nice, determined, sad, and most of all, angry as hell. It’s the kind of comeback role that so many older actors wish they had come their way, which makes it all the more of a joy to see Keaton relish in it and actually make us care for this Riggan Thomson guy, even if he is sort of distasteful dick at times. Because yeah, he treats his ex-wife and daughter like shit sometimes, but at the end of the day, you feel bad for him because he’s put so much work into making this play work that you sort of want him to succeed, while also learning a major life-lesson to hopefully turn things around for himself, as well as those who actually care about him.
I sincerely do hope that Keaton gets a nomination for his work here. Not just because it will put his name back on the map like it deserves to be, but because it’s a role that literally goes in all sorts of different directions, yet, never rings a false note.
And trust me, this could have been a big problem for everybody in the movie, had nobody been able to adapt well to Iñárritu’s style; because it’s all filmed in one shot (or at least, edited in a way to make it appear so), the camera is constantly on them, watching their every move, whether it be a physical one or a mental one. That’s to say that everybody here feels perfect for their roles and makes it seem like they actually are having real-life conversations with one another, giving us more of the impression that we are right there with them, along for the ride that is this play being made.
Another actor who gets away with stealing this movie a bit for his bit of stunt-casting too, is Edward Norton as the pretentious, Marlon Brando-ish thespian, Mike Shiner. Anybody who has ever worked with Norton, the person, will tell you that the guy’s a handful, which is why I found it incredibly fitting that he’d play the same kind of person that’s like that both on, and off the stage. Shiner’s a smug a-hole and is definitely all about himself, which allows for Norton to really just take the piss out of his image and play all of this up. But, like with Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, whenever there’s time for us to see more in Shiner than what’s originally presented to us, the movie makes sure to do this in an understandable way, with Norton’s dramatic-abilities coming into full play.
Most of these scenes come from when he’s around Emma Stone’s character, Sam, the ex-junkie daughter of Riggan. Stone’s charming here, as usual, but she’s got more of an edge to her here that makes it seem like she’s more than just about being sassy, she’s downright pissed-off and willing to let everybody know it. This side to her is exciting and it makes me wish she’d just step away from making movies with Spidey, and testing out her obviously capable abilities as one of today’s best-working actresses. And trust me, there’s plenty more where she came from – Zach Galifianakis is hilarious as Riggan’s co-producer that’s all about making sure the show does in fact go on, while also fearing that he may be out of job if this all goes South; Naomi Watts gets a rare chance to be funny playing an actress who wants to make it big with her first appearance on Broadway; Amy Ryan has a few sweet scenes as Riggan’s ex-wife; Andrea Riseborough deliciously plays Riggan’s co-star who he may, or may not be, having a child with; and Lindsay Duncan plays the New York Times critic that Riggan despises the hell out of, yet, wants nothing more than to impress the shorts off of, if only so that she can give him a good review and not have to worry about people dismissing his play.
Don’t have to worry about that here, Riggan. You’ve got me sold, man.
Consensus: Loose, wild, perfectly-acted, and altogether, fun, Birdman is a hilarious satire that takes a bite out of everybody involved with the entertainment-business, while also not forgetting about those said people and remembering that they all have feelings, too.
9 / 10 = Full Price!!