Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Duration: 119 mins
Rating: MA15+ – Strong coarse language
Release Date: 15 January, 2015
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a surreal comedy about a washed-up movie star Riggin Thompson (Michael Keaton) trying to revive his creative reputation by adapting, directing and starring in Raymond Carver’s play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love on Broadway.
Thompson reached his peak as a movie star with the Birdman trilogy, in which he played a winged superhero in the early 1990s – cue Batman comparisons for Keaton – and now, pushing 60, is desperate cultural relevance again.
Birdman follows the travails of the play’s small cast and crew as they head toward opening night.
Throughout the journey, Thompson falls into frets of despair about the disaster of the enterprise and hears the voice of his most famous character ‘Birdman’ taunting him with his own grandiose vanity.
There are obvious echoes between Riggin and star Michael Keaton, a one-time Batman whose star has faded since the late 1990s. In this sense the casting of Keaton is inspired, reinforcing its own premise and ideas by reintroducing audiences to a once very famous actor pushed into obscurity.
Yet gimmick aside, Keaton is sensational carrying the whole enterprise effortlessly.
The first few minutes of Birdman is a reminder of how good Keaton – his mad, unpredictable energy and weird emotional distance make him perfect as a man who is always searching for adulation but is never comfortable in his own skin.
The production’s small cast and crew, it should be added, is filled with movie stars who are uniformly excellent.
Zach Galfafankis (The Hangover, Between Two Ferns) plays it straight as Thompson’s stressed out producer/lawyer who must nurse Thompson’s frazzled ego while consistently reminding him of their production’s commercial realities.
Edward Norton steals every scene he is in as an arrogant theatre star who will deliberately sabotage a live performance if he doesn’t feel it is ‘real’ (Norton has a ball sending up preposterous acting clichés).
And Emma Stone plays Thompson’s jaded, drug-recovering daughter, who nurses a permanent benign grudge against her father.
Each character has their individual moment drawing out Birdman’s exploration of fame – its allure, momentary gratifications and emotional destruction.
Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Perros) films Birdman as though it is occurring as one continuous event using long, single-take tracking shots, capturing all of the cast and crews’ fights, arguments and monologues in continuous motion, and the results are astounding.
In a triumph of choreography and cinematography, the camera follows characters as they argue down Manhattan streets, fight in their underwear or jump from buildings in flights of fancy.
The cumulative effect is to bring the viewer into the ecstatic, delirious headspace of putting on a play and trying to make it big – where tensions run high and every moment can be exaggerated into intense, apocalyptic melodrama.
Birdman is one of the best films of 2015. It’s a fun, funny movie with a very relevant central idea about finding personal meaning in a world of cheap fame, constant self-conscious ‘performance’ and Nano second attention spans. Welcome back Michael Keaton.
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