“A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.” This motto adorns Riggan Thomson’s mirror in his dressing room. It applies quite well to his personal story as well as the film that documents his attempt to regain recognition and respect. Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, has been receiving a lot of praise lately. Largely all well deserved. Birdman is an experience, a film like no other. It can’t be pigeon holed or put into a neat little box. It just simply is what it is. Which is something both highly entertaining and meaningful. I’m not going to delve too deeply into the film because I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone else. And also, I think it is a film that is better when the audience simply lets go and enjoys the ride.
The structure of the nearly seamless one long take the film is done in is more than just a gimmick. It serves to fully immerse the audience in the mind of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a man trying to recapture relevance and respect after he walked away from Hollywood and his superhero franchise 20 years prior. I really enjoyed how the film plays with reality and both Riggan’s, and the audience’s, perception of it. The references to actors like Michael Fassbender, Robert Downey Jr., and Jeremy Renner, as well as their superhero counterparts, were funny. These references, combined with Michael Keaton’s past as the first cinematic Batman, serve to ground the film in our world and make it seem all the more plausible. But then Riggan starts flying around New York and the audience, as well as Riggan, no longer has any idea what is real and what is not anymore. I especially enjoyed the final scene and the look of awe on Emma Stone’s face. I won’t spoil it, but I still don’t know what I think really happened there. Another aspect of the film I loved was the use of language. The dialogue is fast, witty, engaging, and a little vulgar. And always. I especially loved the very beginning when Birdman says “This room smells like balls.” Hahaha.
The cast is all phenomenal, but of course the star, and the one I predict right now will win an Oscar, is Michael Keaton. If he does win I think it will just reaffirm what Birdman has to say in the end about Hollywood and how fickle its adoration is. Michael is captivating right from the beginning, when he is simply floating with his back turned to the camera. It’s hard to pick a stand out scene of his because they are all so excellent. I guess I like his walk through New York in only his underwear. I also really enjoy the transition he goes through in the scene in which Birdman materializes and talks to him. I guess that’s the start of his mental breakdown. It was so powerful, I’ve never seen anything like it.
One thing about the film, which isn’t really a criticism since it is inevitable, is that the secondary characters (everyone other than Riggan) are underdeveloped. The film is called Birdman after all. The other actors are so good it would have been nice to see more of them and some of their characters feel useless (I’m looking at you, Laura). Other reviewers are singling out Zach Galifanakis for his performance as Jake, Riggan’s lawyer/manager. He is very good and funny. But he didn’t stand out too much to me, he doesn’t have very many lines. The two performances that really stood out to me were 1) Edward Norton and 2) Emma Stone (and Naomi Watts a distant third). Edward Norton has quite a showy part. I think I’ve only ever seen him in Fight Club, in which his character is a loser and social misfit. Here, as Mike, he is extremely charismatic. And even though he is a d-bag (as usual, Star-Lord’s words) he is kind of likeable. In a world where a lot of the characters are in denial of their inadequacies and the world itself is full of BS, Mike is truthful, even if that truth is only evident on the stage. Norton also lends the film a lot of its humor. His scenes with Emma Stone are wonderful, thought provoking. I particularly like when he asks her why Riggan was such a terrible father. And it becomes evident that in fact, he wasn’t all that bad.
Emma plays Riggan’s daughter, Sam. Her character is there to make Riggan feel like a piece of shit. At least during the first half. My favorite scene of hers, one which I found very powerful was when Riggan confronts her for smoking pot. Sam lashes out at him, pushing every button he has. I was entranced by her ferocity. I was also captivated by how large her eyes looked during the entire film. Emma looks quite stunning. I thought her sexual relationship with Mike was a weak point of the film. It seemed kind of unnecessary, but I guess it is just another event that contributes to Riggan’s breakdown although he never discusses it. I also thought Benjamin Kanes, who played the younger version of Birdman, was quite good.
As I watched the film I tried to spot some bird motifs. There were a few that I think I saw, feel free to comment with any that you saw. First, Sam has a tattoo of a bird feather and a few birds flying. When Riggan’s ex-wife visits him in his dressing room for the first time she pulls a bobby pin out of his hair. But it reminded me of the way you would pluck out a feather. Then there is an instance in which half of Riggan’s fake mustache is coming off and resembles a feather. Then near the end the mask Riggan has on his face makes him look like he has a beak.
Overall I think Birdman is a very good movie and I would recommend it to anyone. It is fast paced, imaginative, and highly enjoyable. Micheal Keaton has always been a good actor, but finally he has a true opportunity to shine in the spotlight, thanks to Alejandro González Iñárritu. Michael has always been talented, but now no one will be able to deny it. Like Riggan Thomson, Michael Keaton has done something that will live on forever. 9/10