Birdman Or: (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) – Review


Birdman Or: (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Starring: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts
Play Based On the Book “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by: Raymond Carver
Written for the screen by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu & Nicolas Giacobone & Alexander Dinelaris & Armando Bo
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Metacritic Score: 88
IMDb Score: 8.0 (#248 out of the Top 250 movies on IMDb as of Mar 4, 2015)
Winner of four Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki)

Rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence

Few entertainment industries are as self congratulatory as the film industry…it instantly explains how The Artist won Best Picture and how countless awards that are won are not due to the merit of the specific performance, but of the actor and the industry’s feeling of them itself. That explains how Scorsese didn’t win until The Departed. When a movie like Birdman wins Best Picture, there’s an uneasiness of more navel-gazing congratulatory masturbation. What I cannot say is that it didn’t deserve it (plus, that’s not a point of a review, really), but what I can say is that Birdman is a movie that should be seen by film lovers…just so you have an opinion on the movie.

Riggan Thompson (Keaton) is a popular 90’s actor who was popular for playing Birdman, until he opted not to return in the third movie. Now, in a desperate attempt to reclaim his former glory, he stages a play based on a Raymond Carver book that he is writing, directing and starring in. The question is: Will he survive dealing with an eccentric actor (Norton), his fresh out of rehab daughter (Stone) and his own sanity to get the play to be successful?

Birdman is a movie that loaded with “could of been”‘s. This could of been an incredibly pretentious film up its own ass fully. It could have been a movie that is loaded with “performance pieces” with a lowly stringed plot. It could have been an overly meta commentary on the career of Michael “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls” Keaton. It could have also been one of the best films to come out in the past few years.

There is a risk in Birdman of being overly pretentious and artsy: a movie that showers itself in the importance of the artistic process. Thankfully, the writers of the film did a fantastic job of jarring the story back when it heads down that path, with some insight and wit. This internal push and pull of the movie becomes one of its central themes; it also provides some of the best content the film has to show and what plot there is of the film.

This film also has some incredible shot compositions and staging, thanks to the excellent cinematography by Lubezki. The film is filled with incredible lighting and color, which you wouldn’t expect of a movie that is set backstage and outside of a theatre most of the time. Yet, when the film gets going early on, the beautiful shooting is truly a sight to see.

Of course, we can’t go do cinematography without Inarritu’s excellent pace in direction. For this film to be engaging, funny and light while still being somewhat dark tones and themes is a hefty balance to hit, which is what makes his direction so excellent. The pace is very brisk and light, while still holding a nice weight to give the film gravitas. This film’s direction is incredibly reminiscent of P.T. Anderson’s work in Punch-Drunk Love, where you can’t quite get a grasp of what is going to happen and it’s both unnerving and entertaining.

Quickly, the score is a very frenetic and catchy score filled with beautiful score embedded by some great drums. It’s quite to be engulfed into the rhythm of the story with this excellent score.

Lastly, what more can be said about Keaton’s performance as Riggan? Whether the character is a commentary on his own career or not is superfluous: this is a brave, hilarious and unstable performance that engages the viewer from beginning to end. This isn’t just grounded on nostalgia of a once loved actor: this is a defining movie that shows more range than any film previously has for Keaton.

So, what went wrong? This movie has a glaring flaw, which is the whole personal dynamic of Riggan’s life. The artistic struggles he faces, with the play and dealing with Norton’s character and his own neuroses, are completely engaging and worth watching. Adding his personal life didn’t hit quite the same punch: meaning, it just feels like it’s there. Which is kind of bad when you think half of Riggan’s struggles is with his personal life as well.

It’s not that the writing, or characters, or even the dialogue involving them are bad: they just don’t hit the mark quite as well as Riggan’s artistic meltdown. In a lesser movie it’s a mere footnote: in a movie that strives to be much greater than the story itself, it becomes hard to get through.

Also, the film throws a ton of themes that don’t get fully realized or given enough substance to really dig into the character. Is Riggan trying to find his inner artist or is he just trying to be relevant again? Is he mere self absorbed or going insane? What’s with the preachy themes of the realism of theatre to the fakery of film?

Birdman is a movie that can easily be forgiven for its transgressions: it’s a lovingly crafted movie with an excellent performance by Michael Keaton, supported by a crazy Edward Norton. Yet, there are loose ends that ends up asking more questions than providing discussions, which is what the film was looking to strive for. Should it be talked about? Absolutely, but the film could have been the 8 1/2 of our time: a film that transcends its own medium to find true artistry in its form.

4/5 – Keaton’s performance and Innaritu’s direction is sublime; though it has some thematic issues

The Wiz Says #8

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