Note: this movie is now out on DVD, so grab the Oscar-winning masterpiece off the shelves today!
Few movies last year were as daring, as original or as resonant as Birdman, a movie that defies both explanation and easy description. The two words that could best describe this movie are surreal and ironic, because this movie is deeply weird yet a pleasure to have with us today.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood superhero actor, clearly past his peak of popularity but determined to make a comeback. This bid for credibility with a Broadway adaptation of the Raymond Carver story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” a production that’s plagued with different troubles ranging from having Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a brilliant actor but overall terrible human being, as the lead; to Riggan trying to patch things up with his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) in the process; to trying to deal with what very may well be his psychological breakdown.
All this could’ve been an overwrought melodrama, but in the hands of a remarkable cast and director Alejandro González Iñárritu, the movie simply soars (no pun intended). Perhaps the most remarkable feature of the film is the editing (whoever snubbed Birdman for film editing at the Oscars should have to walk the plank). It’s edited to look like one long, ongoing cut. It clearly isn’t with all the special effects they have going on in the movie, but the amount of work by everyone involved to achieve that kind of fluidity is astonishing, and if Iñárritu becomes the second consecutive Latino director to win Best Director, he deserves it.
As I said before, the cast is remarkable. It’s a natural fit for Keaton to play this role, yet also deeply ironic because Riggan is practically Keaton on screen. Keaton was Batman in the Tim Burton films, yet after Batman Returns, not much was heard from him. He was in a couple of Pixar films, notably as Ken in Toy Story 3, but this performance rewrites the script entirely. Keaton is funny, poignant, complex, and altogether brilliant in this movie. Edward Norton is equally multifaceted, funny yet also capable of making you want to punch him in some scenes. It’s always nice to see Emma Stone receive a role where she plays an edgy, in-your-face character, even if it’s jarring to see her with blond hair. Also, Zach Galifianakis opens up many more possibilities for him than the Hangover movies because he has dramatic credibility in this movie that should lead to more multifaceted roles after this.
Several more things stand out in this film. Standout scenes abound, including a scene where Riggan fights Mike inside the theater building, a couple where Mike and Sam have deep talks on the roof of the building where Riggan goes through Times Square in his underwear (it has to be seen to be believed). Another brilliant stroke is the use of a drumset as the driver for the score, and it’s awesome. Unfortunately, the Academy didn’t think so. Hope the sharks on the West Coast are hungry.
Birdman is definitely one of 2014’s best films, and the accolades it received were deservedly earned. If you had to get one film for a birthday, as a gift, or simple to own it, make it this one.