Yeah, I know, I have exceeded the allowable ‘Wow’s for 2014. But Birdman, despite leaving me ‘dazed and confused’, is such a unique amazing film that a ‘Wow’ is unavoidable.
Birdman, directed (and co-written) by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (who has not made a film I didn’t love) stars Michael Keaton as Riggan, an actor whose popular role as the action hero Birdman is two decades behind him (just like Keaton’s role as Batman). Riggan has adapted a play by Raymond Carver for Broadway and has invested everything he has in one last attempt at a comeback (he is directing and starring in the play) because he’s in the midst of an existential crisis, wondering if his life matters (or has mattered) at all.
But one crisis follows another, especially when Riggan hires Mike (Edward Norton) as a last-minute replacement for one of the play’s four roles. Mike, who is living with another one of the actors (Lesley, played by Naomi Watts), is an egotist. Meanwhile Riggan’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), who works as his assistant, is not an encouraging presence in his life; and his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan) isn’t always helpful either. And then there’s his girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), who tells Riggan she’s pregnant on the eve of the play’s preview.
All of this could be entertaining enough even without the absolutely astonishing camerawork and flawless acting. The camera follows characters from room to room and in and out of buildings as if the film is one long shot (which it isn’t). It also dances around in a fluid way that is mesmerizing while often zooming in for some stunning close-up work that let’s the actors shine. And wow do those actors shine. I’ve always liked Keaton, but this is far and away his best performance and well-deserving of an Oscar in a year that again boasts many excellent performances. And Stone is remarkable, stealing every scene she’s in. The rest of the actors named above are not far behind.
On top of that, you have lots of intelligent (and often funny) dialogue that satirizes our cult of celebrity, a fascinating drum score, a Raymond Carver play and even a comment about the way people prefer mindless action flicks to philosophical dramas (like this one).
But let’s come back to my use of the word ‘could’ in the beginning of the fourth paragraph. There is so much to love in this work of art (it is the work of a genius), but Deanna was correct in warning me that this unusual film is often difficult to enjoy. Birdman is clearly meant to be a thoughtful and thought-provoking film, and it is. The problem is the constant struggle to get your head around what it’s trying to say and do, a struggle that’s exacerbated by the intentional fine line between fantasy and reality. Just when you think you have it figured out, something happens to derail your assumptions.
But never mind; that just means I need to see Birdman again, as soon as possible. In the meantime, it deserves no less than **** for being such an original example of independent filmmaking at its bravest and finest. My mug is up, but I haven’t figured out exactly what kind of liquid is inside. What a year!