Michael Keaton leads a star-studded cast in the terrific Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Michael Keaton plays an actor who is trying to escape his image as a superhero from a film series he acted in over 20 years ago. So…Michael Keaton is playing himself. Birdman mirrors Batman in so many different ways, and that is intentional. But that is only part of this movie. This film has so many different layers. It rips into the idea of Hollywood and fame, along with the effect it has on people. It asks what the difference between admiration and love is — and what is better. There is so much going on in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), there is too much to describe.
Birdman tells the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up Hollywood actor who is best known for his Birdman movies. Birdman was a series of superhero films he starred in over 20 years ago and he has never been able to escape the image of Birdman. Fast forward 20 years, and now Riggan is trying to reinvent himself and forge a classier image for himself. He does this by writing, directing, and starring in a play; an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The play is funded by Riggan’s best friend and lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), and also stars Riggan’s semi-secret girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough), first-time Broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts), and method actor/enormous diva Mike Shiner (a fantastic Edward Norton). Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering drug addict, serves as his personal assistant in an attempt to make up for the years he wasn’t there because of the filming for Birdman — which led to Sam’s drug abuse. In order to afford Mike as a replacement actor (after an accident-but-kind-of-not-an-accident injures the original actor), Riggan refinances a house that should belong to his daughter, pretty much leaving him penniless. Throughout all of this, Riggan hears his own voice as Birdman in his head either mocking or bolstering him. On top of that, he also performs small feats of telekinesis and levitation when he is alone.
Yeah…it’s a weird movie.
I’m not going to pussy-foot around here. I’ll just come out and say it. This film is fantastic in every way you can think. It is artistic, visionary, hilarious, dramatic, and shot in a way that leaves you breathless in a good way. It’s a shame that Boyhood came out in the same year; Birdman would have been the best movie of the year had it not. This year has just been stacked with amazing films and Birdman is at the top.
Let’s talk about how this film is shot. It is pretty much done in one take. It takes place in this theater in New York and the camera never stops moving. It moves from room to room and character to character without stopping. There are no cuts, only transitions. The only breathing room the actors in this film get is when, every now and then, there will be a “fade to black” or animation in between shots. Other than that, the movie never stops and the actors have to remember their positions and lines as if it was a real play. Shooting the film like this was a brilliant idea. Genius. Not only is it impressive as hell in terms of directing, but it sheds a new light on these actors. Imagine the pressure of having to remember all of that for a 2 hour film, not wanting to be the one to mess it up. You gain a respect for these actors. Personally, I have never been a fan of Zach Galifianakis as an actor. I think he was funny in one movie and then every other movie he was in tried to capitalize on his popularity. He played virtually the same character in every movie, until now. I thought he would be out of place here but he wasn’t; he was brilliant.
You will find yourself noticing these actors slipping up every now and then. They will forget a word or trip over their dialogue. But they recover. They repeat the lines or just keep going as if nothing happened. It makes it feel real, as if this is all happening like a real play. It adds a whole layer of authenticity to the film that wouldn’t have been the same had they just filmed it normally with all the cuts. Keaton’s character wouldn’t have felt as real. His character directly benefited from this creative technique. And his amazing performance didn’t hurt it either. Was this film done in one take? Probably not. But it creates the illusion that it was, and it is appreciated.
If you love cinema as an art form, this is THE movie for you. If you love plays, this is definitely the movie for you. There isn’t enough good things I can say about it. If the Academy doesn’t find it too weird, it could very possibly take home the Best Picture Oscar this awards season. This is one of the first years that I can remember being totally fine with any one of, like, six different movies winning Best Picture. So much good quality this year, I wish every year was like this and not ones where undeserving films like American Hustle have a chance. All of these high praises I’m giving it and I’m not even done. I haven’t even talked about the performances.
I’ll just start out by saying that there isn’t a single bad performance in this entire movie. There isn’t even a mediocre one. They are all fantastic. And at the top of them all is Michael Keaton. Batman and Beetlejuice himself, Keaton rises and perfects his character. There are so many layers to his character, I have no idea where to even begin to praise him for his work. He is a character who wants many things and who is also going a little bit mad. Edward Norton perfectly plays Mike Shiner, the diva actor who is the key to Riggan’s play being a success but he could also be the catalyst for its’ destruction. The scene where Norton and Keaton are bouncing lines off of each other to practice for the first preview is amazing. Norton is the most annoying character in the movie but damn he plays it perfectly.
Pretty much every supporting actor or actress has their moments to shine. Naomi Watts does an amazing job, as does Andrea Riseborough. Emma Stone kicks serious ass in her role as the daughter who’s fighting a drug addiction. Her entire speech she yells at Michael Keaton was terrific acting, and even better was her face after she said it. Galifianakis is brilliant in his role and even Amy Ryan does great work as Riggan’s ex-wife.
At the helm of this film is the supremely talented Alejandro González Iñárritu. I can’t talk enough of how much I loved the “single-take” style this film was shot in. He does some very interesting things with Birdman. He poses questions about fame, reality, love, and a bunch of other things. He poses all these questions with little hints sprinkled around for us to answer; and that’s the best part. He makes the viewer answer the questions themselves. Take the ambiguous ending for the prime example. There is no clear-cut answer. It is up to you to decide the ending and I love that. He also allows Keaton to go on a rampage when he is talking to the movie critic in the movie. He has this entire monologue that pretty much takes a giant shit on movie critics and I loved it. It makes sense because everything he mentions about critics is technically true. I know the kind of critics he is bashing and it is quite funny. What’s funnier is that while he is bashing critics, all of the critics are in love with Birdman.
This movie is fantastic in almost every way. It is funnier than most comedies I have seen this year and yet it can be totally dramatic. It can go from funny to dramatic with perfect transitions. The performances are amazing. It is so fun that you won’t want it to end. The style is brilliant and so is the writing. Just…go see Birdman. You’ll be glad you did.
Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson/Birdman
Zach Galifianakis as Jake
Edward Norton as Mike Shiner
Emma Stone as Sam Thomson
Andrea Riseborough as Laura
Naomi Watts as Lesley
Amy Ryan as Sylvia
Merritt Wever as Annie
Lindsay Duncan as Tabitha Dickinson
WHAT I LIKED:
+: Michael Keaton is a badass. His acting is so good in this as Riggan and the Birdman alter ego. This is such a tough year for Best Actor but he honestly deserves the award. It is hard to pick and choose between him, Cumberbatch, Gyllenhaal, and whoever else; but Keaton deserves it.
+: Edward Norton and the rest of the cast are all brilliant.
+: The “single-take” style of direction. Making it seem like an actual play done in one take added a lot to the movie and the characters.
+: Hilarious movie. Not sure if it’s considered a drama or comedy but it is funnier than anything I’ve seen this year.
+: Great and ambiguous ending.
+: Raises questions the viewers have to answer for themselves.