I knew I had to see Birdman after the first trailer. It looked like my type of movie. I showed my movie buddy the trailer, and told him I really wanted to see it for our next film. His response? “That trailer makes no sense. Why would you want to see that?” That’s the thing, though: I wanted to see this movie because the trailer didn’t make sense, and it was also rocking a few things that had me excited, and in a year filled with major letdowns, it was nice to be excited for a change.
Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) was once a great actor, filling the suit of a much beloved superhero named Birdman. It’s been a really long time since those films were popular, though, and he decides to try and resurrect his career by starring in a Broadway play. The film opens with Riggan hovering in the air in his whitey tighties. He stands up to answer a Skype call from his assistant/daughter, played by a stoner-esque Emma Stone. What we soon learn is that Riggan has a few inner demons, mainly Birdman himself, who heckles him throughout the course of the film. Not only that, but he also has an A-list celebrity, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), starring alongside him in this ego-fueled play. Shiner also happens to be shagging the one female lead, Lesley (Naomi Watts), and may or may not have the hots for Riggan’s daughter.
Birdman is so meta that it makes me want to scream at the screen. The sheer joy comes from getting what it’s doing; understanding all the little hints and references. My brain, filled with useless film knowledge, is put to the test, and me passing the test, and getting excited as each new thing comes into focus – each little dig and jab making perfect sense – that’s what makes Birdman such a joy to watch. The comparison between Keaton and his role as Batman is the first and most perfect example. There’s a number of little nods to this, and the fact that Keaton has, for the most part, been out of the spotlight for a while just adds fuel to the little film nerdgasm I was experiencing.
Experience. What a fantastic word to describe Birdman. If you’ve ever performed in a play, the tight close-ups on the actors, and the spinning camera swings during the more intense dialogue exchanges might bring you back to that performance. In the next breath, if you’ve ever seen a play, preferably a Broadway or professional traveling play, the Birdman experience is somewhere near that level. Emmanuel Lubezki does a great job as cinematographer here, with the constant long takes, the flow of each scene, and just finding the perfect segues into each new moment. Never is it distracting to see the camera pan around the sets or lead down hallways, and it always feels like something is going on in the background, as well as right in front of us.
Anyone who knows me in real life knows I am terrible with names. I get them mixed up or flat out forget them. Alejandro González Iñárritu is a name I will probably never remember, despite him directing one of my favorite films, Amores Perros. I might not have enjoyed his other films as much, but his work on Amores Perros and Birdman shows that this man is a serious force to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
Saying the cast does an amazing job would be an understatement. The weakest link might be Zach Galifianakis, who I typically adore. While his character is far from serious, and he may be the weakest of the bunch, he’s still great, which says a lot about the ensemble that is gathered for Birdman. Keaton completely and utterly blows me away with his performance. There are times where he can make the audience grit their teeth, or clench their firsts, and other moments where one can just feel his emotions oozing off the screen. There are a few key scenes, but one of the best has to be when he is explaining his childhood to Mike.
There’s so much I could say about Birdman, a lot of which I am dying to talk about, but must show restraint because I would hate to ruin your experience with spoilers. Birdman is one of maybe five films that I think are great this year. It’s easily on the edge of being my favorite film of 2014 so far, and it will be hard to dethrone it. For the record, my movie buddy did see the film with me and really enjoyed it. We even had a healthy, heated discussion about what a few key scenes might have meant. I give Birdman my highest recommendation. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a tea worth experiencing.