Saturday, November 22, 2014

Movie Review - Birdman

Birdman (2014)
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, and Lindsay Duncan
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Talk about overhyped Oscar bait.

Birdman is the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who, in the early 90s starred in a series of popular comic book movies in which he starred as Birdman, but has found his career in a downturn after he refused to partake in the fourth entry of the series decades ago.  Now, in an attempt to revitalize his career and make himself relevant, Thomson is adapting a Raymond Carver book -- "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" -- to the stage by acting, directing, and starring in the production, but is finding the process much more difficult and much less rewarding than he expected.

Of course the "meta" self-referential aspect of Birdman and how it relates to Michael Keaton's own Hollywood trajectory has been much discussed and that's certainly an intriguing aspect to director/co-screenwriter Alejandro González Iñárritu's film.  However, a film needs a little more substance than "meta" in order to work.

Birdman works best and is most interesting when it details the inner workings of putting on a Broadway show and how an actor's dramatic process works.  The script is good at not taking itself too seriously all of the time and the comedic jabs at the entertainment industry and the sometimes self-important Hollywood actors and drama critics are enjoyable.  Unfortunately, whenever the film focuses on Riggan's sense of worthlessness -- which is the key element of the film -- I found myself being bored and completely uninterested.  With his lawyer/agent (Zach Galifianakis) pressuring him to soldier on with the play in order to make much-needed money, his just-out-of-rehab daughter (Emma Stone) hating her job as her father's new assistant, his ex-wife (Amy Ryan) showing up to support him in his new Broadway endeavor, and his current girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough) sharing the stage with him and announcing that she's pregnant, Riggan's world is chaotic.  Despite the constant cacophony, however, there's not much there there.  The script tosses in an element of weird telekinesis thing with Riggan and various objects that I'm sure means something about the guy's emotional state, but just read kooky to me and not the least bit interesting.  (I could delve more into meaning if I desired, but I don't desire.)

Iñárritu presents the film as one continuous take and the technique is admittedly impressive and surprisingly not detrimental to the production.  Rather than stand out, the lack of cuts allows us to constantly be in the moment with the characters, giving a naturalness to the events of the film.  Despite this unique cinematic technique, I was thoroughly impressed with the fact that it never "felt" like a technique.  Kudos for that.

Kudos also to Edward Norton who is the most impressive member of the cast, taking on the role of Mike, a famous Broadway actor who joins Riggan's play at the last minute when one of the cast members is rendered incapable of performing.  Mike butts heads right away with Riggan, and Norton and Keaton's scenes together are the best in the flick.  However, Norton's so good that he makes Keaton look like a bad actor.  Then again, maybe that was the point.  I wasn't all that impressed with Keaton's Riggan, but maybe I wasn't supposed to be.  Maybe he wasn't supposed to be a fantastic actor after all.

I don't know.  I feel like there's so much I could say about Birdman, yet I've funnily enough got nothing to say about it at the same time.  The film is...interesting...but it's not the least bit riveting (a la Whiplash) or touching (a la The Fault in Our Stars) or simply entertaining (a la Gone Girl).  I didn't hate the experience, but I wasn't won over by any aspect of it.  While the behind-the-scenes moments provided a glimpse into a world we don't often see, the characters of Birdman didn't really intrigue me.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

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