Like Richard Linklater before him with “Boyhood”, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has taken a story that could’ve been done traditional but saw the potential to do something daring, innovative and risky—and he pulled it off ten times over. I’d like to think that makes him a true artist.
Granted, art is subjective and anything can indeed be called art, but what shouldn’t be subjective is your opinion of this movie. If there is something you do not absolutely love about “Birdman” then you’re nothing more than an insatiable curmudgeon and we can’t be friends.
The story about a former comic book movie star trying to seem relevant by adapting a drama on Broadway, Inarritu has tapped into backstage of the theater like never before. And at the helm is Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson is, well, words can barely express. You must see him as this layered, manic, shrewd, crazy-eyed and utterly brilliant delusional actor. Hey, he wanted to get nuts. So he got nuts.
Surrounding him is a cast full of people who each deserve all the recognition and praise in the world. Standouts are Edward Norton as the way-too-method method actor so smug you wanna punch him but so brilliant you wanna throw flowers at his feet; Emma Stone as Riggan’s recovering addict daughter who ditches her quirky type for something deep seeded, sensual and yet still so charming and; Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s always high-strung and loony manager/lawyer/friend who is jumps for joy whenever his client does something anyone else would think is insane (and is).
Together these people form a band of surface level thinkers who only care about themselves but masquerade as deep thinkers. In short, they’re actors, addicts and businessmen.
But the real star of the show is the camera. Taking us into a rarely seen world that lies behind the curtain, Inarritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and editors Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione do the unthinkable and make the movie appear to be one long shot. It isn’t, but unless you yourself are a film editor or hide out in a dark room reading on the subject you won’t even notice.
In this style the camera glides and moves like a person, eavesdropping on all the conversations. There is term for this called Felliniesque, memorialized by Italian director Federico Fellini, who used this technique often. You don’t feel like you’re watching a movie so much as living it and in this context absorbs into an environment you’re not supposed to see. It’s like actually getting to break into the White House and watch the Obama’s sleep. Not that I’ve thought about doing that…
Haunted by the character that made him famous, Birdman (much like Batman, but a bird) Riggan struggles to move forward with his risky new play and the glory that made him a star. It’s not simply a theater expose as much as a subversive character study. Heck it’s both. There are moments of blatant weirdness, like how Riggan can move things with (in?) his mind or when he puts himself into a scene from one of his actions movies. This movie has a lot going on, and it will no doubt benefit from a second viewing.
But my job is to make you want to see this movie, not give you a philosophy lesson. If I haven’t done that then I don’t know what else I can say. It may seem dark or too artsy-fartsy, but underneath all the drama and the talent in a wicked sense of humor that adds yet another layer to this cave of mastery. So if you’re on the fence, then today is your lucky day. Everything I’ve just described lies in the genre of both comedy and character study. And who doesn’t like comedies?