Movie Review: Birdman
We haven’t heard much from Michael Keaton as of late, but he has resurfaced in one of the most noteworthy films of the year. It’s the perfect vehicle for the actor as he stars as Riggan, an actor who walked away from the superhero franchise “Birdman” and fell into relative obscurity. Sound familiar? If you’ll recall, Keaton famously turned down the opportunity to star in the sequel to Batman Forever back in the early 90’s, and he never quite regained the career trajectory he was headed for.
Now Riggan is attempting to reinvent himself (and his career) as a director on Broadway. He’s launching an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, and the play is wrought with drama in the days leading up to opening night. Riggan has to contend with relationship drama, backstage drama, and his alter ego Birdman, who has a pesky habit of following him around and spewing diatribes that may or may not be a manifestation of Riggan’s actual stream of consciousness.
When one of the production’s stars is injured, Riggan must find a replacement in a hurry. Enter method actor Mike (Edward Norton) who becomes a nightmare on the set (continuing with the meta references in the film, Norton is notoriously difficult to work with in real life). Amongst other things, Mike insists on drinking real gin on stage and tries to coerce his girlfriend/costar Lesley (Naomi Watts) into having real intercourse on stage.
Meanwhile, Riggan is trying to coral his wild-child daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who is fresh out of rehab and looks like she’s headed for a relapse, as well as an affair with Mike. Then there’s Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) who also co-stars in the play and drops a bomb on Riggan in the midst of the production. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, and Riggan starts cracking under all the pressure. All this makes for one pitch-black comedy.
Birdman is directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Perros) who’s known for working with dark material. It’ a richly layered, complicated film but it’s a joy to watch. The film appears to be one long continuous take, thanks to some incredible editing and to cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Children of Men).
Keaton disappears into his role, and it’s a tremendously demanding one. He delivers a tour de forceperformance that might garner him an Oscar nod. Stone and Norton are also outstanding; both deliver scathing monologues. This is a film for audiences who love actors and their art. It’s a peak behind the curtain of a performance. Antonio Sanchez provides the strictly percussion jazz score, and Riggan passes by drummers playing the score in a few scenes.
The overall effect of all these components is one of the most unique viewing experiences you will ever have. Birdman almost demands multiple viewings. I fully expect a second viewing will provide a completely different experience for me, and I probably never will have it all figured out.