Refreshingly strange and surprisingly poignant, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman ranks as one of the year's most entertaining films for a myriad of reasons. Not only does it feature impeccable acting from almost everyone involved, it fearlessly explores the need for self-worth and even experiments with the dangers of robbing someone of that sense of worth. Birdman is inventive, bold, and unflinchingly honest in how it presents its ideas, instantly distinguishing itself from the mindless, soulless shlock that so often taints the already diminishing purity of cinema.
Birdman is the saga of Riggan Thompson (a phenomenal Michael Keaton), a fallen star who just can't seem to crawl back out of the smoking crater he blasted in his sanity when he hit rock bottom. Tortured by his plummet from fame and haunted by the realization that he won't soar with the grace he used to possess, Thompson runs a struggling Broadway adaptation that bleeds him dry of both his funding and any vestige of vitality still coursing through his tired frame. While he wallows in shame and his own ball sweat, his blunt daughter, Sam (a brooding, brilliant Emma Stone), flounders in her own loneliness and self-pity while simultaneously seducing Mike Shiner (a magnetic Edward Norton), an actor hired to perform in Thompson's play.
Riggan spends most of the movie trapped in his own head, subjecting himself (and viewers) to the grating voice of his past self repeatedly attempting to coax him back into his identity as the eponymous Birdman. These scenes rank among some of the movie's most memorable moments, immersing audiences in the tormented musings of a man who considers himself out of time and out of options.
Many critics have labeled Birdman as a comedy. I disagree, but I guess that's why I live alone in my dark, dank apartment with Parks and Recreation playing continuously on my TV while I sit on the couch with pizza hanging out of my face and a can of PBR gripped firmly in between my cheese dusted fingers. While the film has its genuine, funny moments and becomes all the more endearing for them, it also ventures into darker, more thoughtful territory that balances out the levity and takes audiences through a cycle of conflicting emotions.
The film could have gone in a completely different direction, and I can tell you right now it would not have been nearly as powerful or as effective as the one Inarritu and his crew opted to go with. It could have kicked things off with a cheesy flashback that harkened back to Thompson's days as Birdman, focusing on his once fruitful career before taking viewers through an exhausting montage of his desperate efforts to remain relevant. Instead, the filmmakers wisely chose to keep Thompson at rock-bottom and really explore what he does with that.
Birdman may well be one of the saddest, strangest, and most rewarding trips to the theater you'll make this year. Some of it may be tough to stomach, but you get more than enough payoff in the form of a truly special movie with a distinct voice and lots to say.