I walked out of Birdman last night feeling exhilarated, confused, and unqualified to review it.
The film, nominated for seveon Golden Globes including Best Picture- Musical or Comedy and Best Director), follows (literally, through most of it) Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a fictional ex-movie star most famous for playing a superhero called Birdman as he tries to re-invent himself as a Broadway star in a play that he wrote, directs, and stars in. The production is shaping up to be a disaster throughout rehearsals as it’s star must not only deal with his own demons but also with his eleventh-hour replacement co-star who threatens to steal the spotlight (Edward Norton), a high-maintenance actress afraid of spoiling her one chance to be in a Broadway show, his high-strung lawyer (Zach Galifanakis), and his resentful daughter who is straight out of rehab.
Whenever possible, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inamitu gives the appearance of one long continuous take as he follows his actors from backstage to Times Square to a nearby bar. Some of this was accomplished through fancy editing tricks but the film’s stars apparently would have to shoot up to 15 pages of dialogue at a time. That and the complex choreography of the walk make what would otherwise be a pretty talky movie feel action-packed. Even those with little interest in cinematography and editing are likely to be impressed. And the cast, with Keaton and Norton being clear stand-outs, seem grateful for the challenge.
I feel shy about reviewing Birdman because it’s more surreal touches involving Thomson’s frequent arguments with the voice of Birdman in his head left me scratching mine. Many scenes are ambiguous and are probably meant to be but sometimes left me feeling like I wasn’t understanding what was going on. But mostly, I feel shy to review it because few seem to be able to escape its brutal honesty as it takes aim at Hollywood, Broadway, critics, bloggers, Twitter, awards season, and self-importance in general. I felt like I was being dared to love this movie- or to hate it- only so it could mock me for it. The script and acting feel refreshingly honest even as it seems to question its own ability to do so. Keaton and Norton contribute to the multi-layeredness, both playing parts that are so close to their real-life public personas.
My review of this is all over the place. Sorry about that. I’m still not sure what to make of this movie. I can tell you that you I doubt you’d regret watching it. And that (I never thought I’d say this) someone should nominate Michael Keaton for an Oscar. Even if the makers of Birdman would laugh at them for it.