I was looking forward to this movie. It had quite the build-up. Everybody is saying how amazing it is and I was already aware that the director has made some impressive films leading up to this one, (which I haven’t yet got around to seeing.) So that has given substance to the myth that Birdman is a great movie. A lot of what has been said is about Michael Keaton’s performance – his best yet, so they tell me.
I started watching the film with all this hype inside of me, against my better judgement I was ready to believe all of the positive voices. The start is jazzy, conversational like My Dinner with Andre but more of a character piece.
Since the film is very much about the theatre (though the story doesn’t explore anything about theatre,) the film’s style pays tribute to the theatre and the structure of the performances and story feel like a theatre piece; minimalist and well-paced, with slow-building tension and character; the story balancing on the emotional plot, with dialogue only coming from the characters as a result of their identities – no dialogue for its own sake.
I appreciate that this film is about a play, not about writing plays, making plays or directing plays – though it is a little bit about performing in plays. And the fact that, while not actually feeling like a play, it feels like it is a tribute to a play.
Innaritu has made here an American film that doesn’t feel arrogantly or self-importantly American – there is too much interesting style and focused storytelling to get all up yourself about your own corner of the world. Broadway is mentioned a few times and it is obviously set in New York, but that kind of attitude could just as easily be English or French. It’s about culture and culture is international.
The surreal daydream of the birdman (also played by Keaton, in a birdman suit,) feels gimmicky. And the progression of this part of the plot seems unnecessary, silly and jarring because unlike the rest of the story it’s unrealistic – which is especially unfortunate in the ending.
Keaton commits to his character absolutely. The character feels honest enough for the audience to become lost inside him. He isn’t a particularly interesting character, nor is he particularly grand as a person. The portrait of the character is boring. But we see the film from this character’s point of view and if you enjoy the story it is in large part because of this.
Keaton plays Riggin who became famous as a superhero character in a comic book movie and its many sequels. This film is timely as we are being hit with a slew of comic book movies and sequels – the only trend to equal this is remakes. There just aren’t many original ideas getting made because as we all know by now, the accountants control Hollywood money. This is one reason to appreciate Birdman, as an original idea amidst a ton of junk. At least the concept is original. But the movie itself is another movie about entertainment industry and culture, and if it did that well it would be enough.
I am particularly offended by one journalist’s line that mentions comic books in the same breath as laundry detergent commercials. And while I appreciate that there is a certain art to advertising, your average laundry detergent commercial is miles from the art of your average comic book. Here was an opportunity for Riggin to defend comic books, but that’s not the kind of man he is. He’s lost in this world of promotion and marketing.
In the end the play is something of a success, but it doesn’t really matter anymore, because Riggin doesn’t care so much now. We are Riggin. He doesn’t really care about anything anymore, so when it looks like he’s about to finally jump off the roof/out the window, it’s all we care about.
Edward Norton as Mike has a large part in the play, a mediocre sized part in the film, but his hard-on is the most memorable thing about his performance. His stiffy is actually quite an interesting plot device. Norton’s character is not as complex as his character’s character.
None of the women are particularly interesting. Zach Galifianakis plays it straight and manages to put on screen a somewhat interesting, honest few beats for Keaton to play against.
Birdman will live or die through the critics, which is ironic. I didn’t like it much. But what do you care?