Review // BIRDMAN

Grade: A-


Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan

This year has already contained a full helping of innovative and unique filmmaking. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman is quite the feat. His star, Michael Keaton, is perfectly crafted for this rebirthing of a role and the story, a dark and dramatic comedy, is intriguing enough to keep us watching. But, neither of those pieces are strong enough to stand on there own. What Birdman lacks in the form of brilliance, it makes up for as a display of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's remarkable talents.

Keaton stars as Riggan, a washed up has-been actor whose career peaked after starring in a handful of hugely popular superhero flicks as Birdman. As he's gotten older, and after passing on a fourth sequel to the Birdman franchise, he's struggling with staying relevant. He chalks it up to his drive to leave a legacy, especially for his daughter Sam (a biting turn towards the dramatic for Emma Stone). This ambition leads him to trying to put up a play on Broadway. He is the director and star. But, it's hard to separate blockbuster actor from respected artist. Zach Galifianakis shows up as Riggan's best friend and compatriot through the playmaking process. Naomi Watts is the star-hungry actress whose own insecurities get the best of her. Edward Norton enters as the egotistical douche actor who, in essence, saves the play. And, the interactions between these people lay the groundwork for Riggan's fight or flight survival.

The whole film takes place in the span of a couple of days. When thinking back on the story, a lot goes on in that short span of time. But, it's understandable, assuming Riggan's emotional state has been on the brink for a while. When we first meet him he is meditating, in his underwear, while floating in midair. There are quite a few of these metaphysical moments that occur throughout that are left to the viewer to make sense of. It's an allegory that can be discussed over and over. Riggan also wrestles the muffled, tough-guy sound of his Birdman character's voice invading his thoughts while he's at his lowest. The voice serves as a loud, abrasive conscience motivating him to do what he's always done and just give up on these people and this project and focus on what makes him happy. This, too, is a throwback to the life he must've led before we met him.

His relationships are key, even if he doesn't realize that at first. He isn't close to his daughter, which could be the reason she gravitated towards drugs and the "wrong crowd." His ex-wife (Amy Ryan) is fully supportive of him, but also weary of the man he's become. His new lover Laura, an actress in the play (played to Hollywood ingénue perfection by Andrea Roseborough), is struggling to find her own dignity through him. He's relied upon by many, but forgets how to handle that.

While wrestling with what is reality and what is fantasy, Riggan, in essence, earns some relevance. It's not in the form he wants, but what exactly is it that he wants? He doesn't seem too sure of how to fix his problems. The film's full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It's a pinpoint on the realm of Riggan and his abundant lack of regard for self or others. He feels like the victim when he's not quite there.

The story has so many facets that are left unopened that repeat viewings may be necessary. Inarritu is clever at laying the foundation of a story so thick that you have nothing to do but talk about one of his films after you've seen it. Unfortunately, this piece isn't quite as moving or gripping as his other films. Babel is a great example of a layered tale rich with pieces of a puzzle that are more alarming the more you watch. The difference here is Inarritu's choice of how we see and experience the film. Lubezki's camerawork is front and center. The entire film is, in essence, one long take. This talking point saw similar discussions as last year's opening shot from Gravity. Birdman is on a masterpiece level during the majority of the film, as far as how everything looks, but there is a point when less would have been more. It's impressive filmmaking, don't get me wrong. I think that it may have become too important that the story happened to suffer just a bit because of it.

The film takes aim at pop culture and the seemingly lack in the art of performance in today's society. There's an interesting moment between Riggan and Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), a highly-respected theater critic who's planning on killing his play. He has quite mouthful of thoughts on the idea of criticism and how it hurts the art world, especially for artists like him. Her rebuttal is equally as poignant. At the end of it all, art is for the viewer just as much as it for the artist. Sometimes those two views collide beautifully and sometimes the meaning gets lost in the work. Inarritu's Birdman fluctuates too much around that middle to live up to the masterpiece I was expecting.

Rating: R

Runtime: 119 minutes

© 2018 by Scottie Knollin.