The deep-fried Twinkie of cinema: it’s very bad for you, and leaves a strange taste in your mouth. But hell, if it isn’t a technical masterpiece and an absolutely alive film.
Birdman is the story of Riggan Thompson’s (Michael Keaton) struggle to get a Raymond Carver adaptation to succeed on stage. The former 90s Hollywood star of the superhero films ‘Birdman’ has sunk all his money into the play he writes, directs, and stars. In this attempt to claw back a reputation and some artistic respect, he has to contend with difficult actors, his post-rehab daughter (Emma Stone), and his own crumbling psyche. On top of all this, the director Alejandro González Iñárittu decided to shoot it as if it was one continuous take.
It is this which impresses the most about Birdman. It is an impeccably well-made film. Apart from one superhero style sequence which sticks out like wings on a human being, every camera move, every unseen edit, and the darkly witty script are all great. Watching the film with a big audience, you can hear the jokes land; it’s surprising just how many hit the mark. Watching it at home then, will impact your viewing if you cannot enjoy it. The characters might feel incredibly exaggerated and frequently incorrect, yet there is no way of denying that they are played almost perfectly to reflect that. Norton steals almost every scene he is in, while Michael Keaton is the undeniable star of the show. Given a starring role to best show his abilities and talents, he manages to make the desperately miserable and often unlikeable Riggan the most sympathetic of all the characters.
Yet it does not matter if you cannot connect with the film. As well-made as it is (absolutely deserving the Best Cinematography Oscar) it falls down hard because of how it approaches everything. Because Birdman feels incredibly unaware of its own topics; it just ignores the reality to point and laugh in hatred at everything. Actors, Directors, Critics, Twitter, Superhero movies, the millennial generation. Nothing is safe from being yelled at, and everything is safe from insight. Every topic and character is written as a bad thing, as an obstacle (there could be many essays written about its genuine problem with women). Take the method obsessed actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), he arrives to rescue Riggan’s soon-to-fail play, and quickly becomes its biggest obstacle. He is a caricature of theatre and film actors, taking all their worst reputations and putting them up for mockery. Every single actor is a problem. They are all lively interpretations of the same ugly stereotypes.
Superhero films are written off entirely, exactly what the worst type of critics do. There is so much to be said about everything Birdman exposes. Yet there is no denying that it is worth experiencing and watching. Whether you like what it is or what it says, you may well enjoy it in spite of yourself. Because it is full of a relentless energy and life.
Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by Alejandro González Iñárittu, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, Certificate 15