This is the kind of film that is right up my alley. An all star cast, brave film-making and eccentric storytelling, it just had to be done well… and thankfully it was!
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman tells the story of a former superhero actor, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) who ambitiously adapts his own Broadway play in the hope it will revive his career, give new status to his name and to prove he isn’t just a washed-up old movie star. Along the way he has to deal with his new co-star, volatile actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), Producer Jake on his back (Zach Galifianakis), his recovering drug addict daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone) and reign in and quieten the Birdman inside his head, almost like the devil on his shoulder. This is a black comedy, it’s hilarious and laugh-out-loud funny in places, but I also felt a sense of sadness and sympathy towards Riggan. Fame is something that people sought, and once gained and not held on to, all respect disappears, leaving you with this contempt celebrity status that lingers with you forever, and for Riggan Thomson, the thing that lingers is Birdman himself. And he vows to escape him.
What basically is a parody of Michael Keaton’s life, where this film Birdman is the career reviver as much as Riggan Thomson’s play, he plays him in good spirit and like Riggan, throws everything he’s got at the role, and Keaton gives the performance of his career. Michael Keaton is manic, funny and tremendous in the lead role and his supporting cast are equally matched. For me these are the best roles I’ve seen Emma Stone and Edward Norton in: Stone the tough yet equally vulnerable Sam, whose monologue to her father about nobody and nothing mattering including him and his play is a moment that stays in mind, and Norton as talented but poisonous Mike, egotistical by his Broadway status wreaking havoc on Riggin’s project and life.
We first see Thomson in his dressing room (hovering above ground), the camera stays with him throughout the scene and afterwards the camera doesn’t so much as blink. It’s one shot stylistic approach is rebellious, revolutionary and bold and it’s screenplay riveting, with lines and dialogue that I can imagine would excite actors enormously! But another aspect that may be overlooked is the soundtrack and sound design. With rhythmic drums that are dominant throughout, often adding comic value as well as the pacing and drive in a scene that the Editor would have been responsible for, except there are no cuts! They also grow more dominant at moments to motivate Riggan to succeed. As well as drums we hear thrilling superhero film music and melancholic classical music at moments when reminiscing his past, and a lonesome lonely piano at moments of isolation; they are perfect motifs to represent a character in what is a very character driven film.
This is an intelligent, brilliant, often silly but then again stylish film, and I found it oddly engaging. Maybe it was the strong, clear themes of fame, love, addiction and a yearning to prove yourself or, the genius experimental style. Whatever it was, Birdman has resonated with me and when I remember it’s highlights I smile and am truly inspired. For me, this is what film-making is all about.
Birdman is in cinemas now!