Nightcrawler, John Wick, Gone Girl, Interstellar, Big Hero 6, The Theory of Everything and so many more – the films that really want to get audiences buzzing seem to gather at the year’s end. No wonder why summer went out making the sound of a drenched firecracker. Then there’s Birdman.
When it comes to Birdman, everyone knows actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton). But when talking about Riggan Thomson, there’s nothing else besides the feathered superhero that graced theaters more than two decades ago. His hairline is receding, the wrinkles are showing, his relevance is inches from oblivion while other film actors are on their rise around him. Perhaps a Broadway play which Riggan is directing, writing and starring in becomes the jolt to wake Riggan’s career up.
With better projects in the future – not another Need for Speed or the studio-botched RoboCop remake – I’d say Birdman is the start of a “Keatonaissance.” Keaton does a wonderful balancing act between desperate and vulnerable, a man who’s holding onto this little piece of remaining stardom and staying in control when nothing around him is. There’s Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who loves drugs, his tryst with fellow actress Laura (Andrea Riseborough), the rivalry with current “hot actor” Mike (Edward Norton) and, oh yes, being bullied by his own conscience in the form of Birdman (Benjamin Kanes). Also worth noticing are Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis in roles with more weight and that are unfamiliar to them. Everyone onscreen acts at 110%, to keep it short and simple.
I’m glad to see director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s focus on a different kind of tragedy, the fading of fame, rather than an accident or death. And with the change comes a different approach: comedy. Much of the humor comes from the sharp writing that utilizes the film’s “meta” factor in two areas – its choice of characters and actors (namely Keaton and Norton) and commentary on the “worthy by popularity” nature of show business.
Like Riggan’s fervent need to make a comeback, there is so much life in the frantic drum solos from Antonio Sanchez and, especially, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, the film is edited as if it has no cuts – truly a feat of its own when the camera constantly trails, squeezes and surrounds our performers. It makes New York a place of particular significance to Riggan, all his pressures are always close and so is his second shot at fame. Cruel but appealing – much like life, or in this case, the world of acting.
Gonzalez Iñárritu’s latest film is ambitious from conception, beautiful when in flight and spotless upon landing. Birdman is akin to a fireworks show at the best position possible, an affecting event that will leave you satisfied and cause you to say “that was worth it.”
Photo: New Regency