Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Courtesy Ryan Gajda
As Birdman soars towards its tragicomic conclusion, we hear a homeless man on Times Square delivering a drunken recitation of the famous monologue from Macbeth which claims life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.  Unfortunately, the same could be said of Birdman.  Compelling themes such as the creative tension between actors and writers, the clash between artist and critic, Hollywood turning its back on cinema in favor of banal comic book flicks, and the comeback of a struggling actor are all raised, but never addressed in a satisfactory way.

Birdman has dazzling visuals including long tracking shots immersing the viewer into its world and extreme close ups to achieve intimacy between audience and character. Michael Keaton plays Riggan, a fading movie star mostly known for playing a superhero named Birdman in the 90s. Now 20 years later he's writing, directing, and acting in a play based on Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About, When We Talk About Love." When a cast member falls victim to a freak accident Riggan replaces him with Mike (Edward Norton) an actor with an Orson Welles size ego. Emma Stone plays Riggan's daughter who's recently left rehab and looking like Lindsay Lohan.

As expected, things get crazier as the play's premier approaches.  Director Alenjandro Gonzalez Inarritu employs magical realism throughout the film, as Riggan's visons start to blur reality with fantasy, often involving visits from his superhero alter ego, the Birdman. Other films, with Woody Allen especially in mind, have more successfully used magical realism to advance the story.

Keaton's compelling performance will deservedly earn an Oscar nomination.  Not since Beetlejuice has he brought such manic energy to the screen. Coincidentally enough, Keaton had a similar role in small Indie film from 2005 called Game 6, in which he plays the desperate writer opposite a pre-Ironman Robert Downey Jr. as the acerbic critic. Keaton gave a heartfelt and honest performance, set during game six of the 1986 World Series.  The same idea worked much better without all the cinematic flourishes of Birdman.

Birdman has creativity and exuberance going for it, but lacks heart.  Watch enough movies and you start to see some synchronicity.  The night before seeing Birdman, I came across The Goodbye Girl.  From 1977, Richard Dreyfuss earned an Oscar for playing a struggling actor in New York.  Despite the sitcom setup, sharing an apartment with a woman and her daughter, Dreyfuss risked annoying the audience with his eccentricities and still managed to make an emotional connection.  Birdman will impress many, but will also leave them cold.

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