Birdman is the kind of film Woody Allen would recommend you if you liked his Bullets over Broadway classic but wanted something more self-aware and cerebral but just as funny. Directed by the hugely talented Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman is the first mainstream film since last year’s Her to attack multiple deep-rooted themes of human life in such a beautiful, subtle yet funny way and better yet be consolidated with multiple Oscar (nomination?)-worthy performances.
My favourite kind of film is one that’s seemingly a script built around thought-provoking ideas and concepts. In an age where we stare more into Gorilla glass than our lover’s eyes Her worked as social commentary; another example could be Interstellar which I thought made an interesting case for love as a force that could transcend time and space. Here, we’re watching the most meta film about the state of the arts possibly ever made that touches on and pokes fun at themes of celebrity, art criticism, mental illness, self-acceptance and how that can be affected by how one is publicly perceived.
Keaton plays himself if he used to be Birdman, not Batman, and instead of deciding to continue being a film actor like he did, took a dive into the world of theatre. Birdman was prolific back in the day and Riggan (Keaton) is haunted by his alter ego’s voice every day as he strives to perfect the piece he adapted from a novel, directs and stars in. Why though? Is it because he’s worried he won’t be successful? Does he even want to be on Broadway or is all his effort simply a cry for help, an attempt to escape a degrading, money-grabbing franchise that controlled his life for too long?
Like any film there are highs and lows for Keaton’s character which flesh him out nicely and truly make you invest in his brilliant performance. Early on, Mike (Edward Norton), a driven, outrageously cocky (maybe cocky isn’t so appropriate in hindsight..) young actor who’s only truly alive on the stage, and Riggan have a brilliant improvisation session that transforms their wooden script into something real and dynamic. Later, Riggan isn’t so happy after confronting his neglected wild daughter (Emma Stone) and we wonder how real Birdman really is and consequently lots of spoilers happen.
If you want to talk Birdman though you have to talk style and direction. Iñárritu’s fellow Mexican countryman Emmanuel Lubezki, the film’s DP, is without doubt one of the most decorated and talented geniuses of film working currently with credits such as The Tree of Life, Y Tu Mama Tambien and Children of Men to his name among many others. Similar to Hitchcock’s Rope the film plays primarily as one single shot with masterfully hidden cuts. Imagine being on the “It’s a Small world” ride in Disney except the annoying puppetry is replaced with a screen and you just flow, seamlessly through the film. It’s wonderful, some might say a little exhausting. The floaty-cam and over-the-shoulder shots do feel very Tree of Life too. The rhythmic drumming score feels momentous and important, usually without overlaying dialogue similar to Wong Kar-Wai’s In the mood for Love did and will likely also be recognised at this year’s Academy awards. The film is an clear amalgamation of the work of talented people working how they want to, including the correctly casted actors, just how film should be.
And well that’s exactly why the film is written like it is. It documents the struggle of people searching for prestige over celebrity and vice-versa in an incredibly fickle world where a critic’s review can destroy your life’s work when art is supposedly subjective. It’s a darkly funny truth.
A thing is a thing, not what someone says about that thing. Well, I say this thing is brilliant but that’s just like, my opinion, man.