Sunday, October 12, 2014

“Birdman”– Movie Review



On the closing night of The New York Film Festival, I caught a screening of “Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”, a comedy-drama starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis and Edward Norton; it is directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who also co-wrote the screenplay. 


When a once-successful movie actor tries to regain his popularity by doing a Broadway play, can he overcome personal and professional obstacles in order to attain his goal?


Riggan (Keaton) finds himself at something of a crossroads in his life.  While once a successful movie star best known for his role of playing the superhero Birdman in a series of franchise movies, his career has been on the skids since that series concluded after three films.  Not only that, but his personal life went into crisis mode when his wife divorced him and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) was forced into a rehabilitation program for substance abuse.  Desperate, Riggan devises a plan:  he will adapt Raymond Carver’s story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” for the stage, as a vehicle for him to both direct and star. 

When the play manages to reach Broadway, Riggan’s troubles are just beginning.  For one thing, one of the play’s stars is unable to make the beginning of previews when he’s injured during rehearsal.  Seeing he’s in a jam, Lesley (Naomi Watts), a fellow cast member, suggests Riggan offer the role to her boyfriend, Mike (Norton) to fill-in for the role.  Despite knowing Mike’s reputation for being a bit nutty albeit a good and popular actor, Riggan hires Mike to play the part.  From the moment Mike arrives at the theater for rehearsal, he begins a whirlwind of chaos with his egotistical behavior. 

Further complicating matters is Sam, who may be relapsing.  Although Riggan hired Sam to work as his assistant during the mounting of this play, she continues blaming her problems on the dysfunctional relationship she had with her father when she was a child.  The pressure is finally starting to get to Riggan; as he starts having delusions and engaging in conversations with an imaginary Birdman who continues to haunt him, it’s clear that he’s becoming unglued when beset by all of these problems at once.  With disastrous previews that may lead to negative reviews once the play officially opens, can Riggan keep both his personal and professional life together long enough for the play to be a success?


Prior to the screening at Alice Tully Hall, Iñárritu said a few words, then introduced two of the stars of “Birdman”, Galifianakis and Keaton.  When Keaton took his turn at the microphone, he said, “I feel as though I stumbled into a masterpiece”.  Indeed you did, Mr. Keaton, indeed you did.  “Birdman” is, in fact, an unqualified masterpiece and a film very much unlike any other I can ever recall seeing, stylistically speaking.  Hilariously funny at times, yet deeply touching at other moments, Iñárritu has succeeded in creating a great work of art with “Birdman”. 

This then begs the not unreasonable question of whether or not a comedy can in fact truly be considered art.  In the case of “Birdman”, I would respond with a resounding “Yes”.  It has been the habit of Hollywood to consider comedies to be a trivial genre; with the possible exception of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”, they are rarely if ever recognized come awards time.  Certainly “Birdman”, is equally deserving of such recognition for a great many reasons.  Clever direction by Iñárritu, an outstanding performance by the entire cast (especially Keaton, who perhaps gave the best of his career) and a richly complex screenplay are easily sufficient justification. 

One of the things that makes “Birdman” so remarkable is the way in which it has been shot.  Most – if not all – of the film is done with a steadicam and the editing that was done is virtually seamless, giving the uncanny impression that all of the scenes occur in immediate sequence where the fluidity of time and space are used as a toy.  No less than a total of four people are given credit for this screenplay (including director Iñárritu himself).  Given the intricacies of the story, it is no wonder that it took such an unusually large team to put this work together.  Iñárritu has set the bar astoundingly high for aspiring filmmakers, who will either be inspired or discouraged when they see “Birdman”.


Birdman (2014) on IMDb

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