Yes, I know the movie’s full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I’m not calling it that. This movie is Birdman to me.
Birdman is about a washed-up superhero actor named Riggan Thompson who turns a Raymond Carver short story into a stage play, raising questions about his work as an actor and his struggle to stay relevant. It gives us a rare and unique look inside an actor’s mind, an opportunity that director Alejandro G. Iñárritu seizes with fervor.
When this movie first came out, I told myself I didn’t want to see it. After reading about the director’s opinion on superhero movies, I figured that seeing this “rage against the machine” flick would only make me mad due to my love for the machine in question. I was very wrong. Birdman is an imaginative film without fear, brilliantly tackling questions about love, fame, and honesty. While I’m sure some people might be sick of hearing about it, this movie deserves every bit of Oscar buzz it’s received.
What I liked
If people freaked out over that one long take in Goodfellas, it only makes sense that they would freak out over this movie. One of the things that makes Birdman so innovative is its cinematography. The majority of the film is comprised of long takes and edited together to make it look like everything happens in one shot. These long takes give it a more significant sense of both reality and fiction.
“How does that work?” you may be wondering. When the camera pops into a room and focuses on the actors, you feel like you’re actually there. The performances being delivered have so much more weight because you know these people can’t get out of a scene. You know the actors are immersed. And if the actors are immersed, then there’s a good chance you are too.
However, you’re reminded it’s all fiction when the camera starts moving again. Since the movie spans several days, the transitions often work to fill in time gaps. For example, a character might walk into a room from a hallway, and then exit through that same door into a slightly different hallway. To make matters even stranger, these transitions are scored by the schizophrenic rhythm of a drum kit. The transitions are not just visible: they’re emphasized. I’d still say this is a plus, however. These transitions mimic those of a stage play, much like the one that’s featured in the movie.
As I mentioned briefly, the acting is phenomenal. Michael Keaton may have been typecast for this role, but he delivers every line with the biting disappointment and cynicism one would expect from his character. Edward Norton, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis all deliver fantastic performances, too. Now that I think about it, Birdman was just really well cast. A movie of this nature needed some very specific and special actors in order to achieve what it did.
While these two technical aspects were key in presenting a strong movie, Birdman also features an interesting plot, packed with important and somewhat-philosophical commentary. Iñárritu has strong opinions regarding actors, critics, the theatre and superheroes; and he has no problem highlighting them with vigor and biting humor. I don’t agree with all of Iñárritu’s ideas, but at least he’s talking about them. These conversations he contributes to give Birdman a sense of purpose that a lot of movies lack nowadays.
What I didn’t like
I really only had two big issues with Birdman. Its fearless and unbridled nature sometimes gave way to half-baked situations and unresolved circumstances. The movie went the extra mile in just about every scene, and sometimes that led into plot points that had no real place in the film. I counted several times where one thing led to another, and the characters ended up in a stereotypical situation that would typically mean something. However, these points were never resolved, or even touched on again.
Also, I had personal issues with several plot points regarding the female characters. One scene in particular really put me off. SPOILER – There’s a scene that shows what amounts to an attempted rape. The woman is clearly distressed about it, but everyone around her trivializes the ordeal completely by turning it into a punchline. – END SPOILER. It doesn’t ruin the film for me, but it’s not something I ever want to see in movies. Those kinds of “jokes” are not funny to me.
Birdman is weird, artistic, untraditional and absolutely fantastic. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t come around very often, and it’s one that I would recommend to just about everyone. I didn’t see it until recently, but since it technically came out last year, I’d have no problem calling Birdman my favorite movie of 2014.
What did you think of Birdman?