“I put off this post because I didn’t want to write it in the middle of a blogging marathon. Since it was just a unique and incredible film (in the running for my fave of the year), I wanted to do it justice with a clear and awake head, so I thought I could find that time within the couple of days that my marathons were auto-posting. Oops.
Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, centers around Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson. Back in the day, Riggan led the popular Birdman franchise. He eventually gave up the role, and his career spiraled ever since. In a last ditch effort to get his life and career on track, he’s eyeing Broadway. The film begins with the night before the first preview of the show which he has written, directed, and stars in and leads up to the hopeful opening night. Besides the usual drama that comes along with opening a show (difficult actors, budget constraints, short timelines, etc), he’s got his own personal demons to wrestle with, most of which are manifest by the voice of Birdman that is always in his head.
I don’t know if I can even count all the reasons I loved this movie. There was just so much that felt like it was a present just for me. I’ll be honest. This one is kinda weird. Okay, very weird. Not everyone will get it. God knows there’s a lot that I had to shrug off and just go with. But if you can suspend disbelief for two hours and let the Birdman fly, it’s well worth it.
I started to write down “”first thing that’s jumping out at me”” but then three thoughts hit me at once and I couldn’t decide which to start with. Umm, okay, the theatre part of everything. I loe theatre. I’ve been involved in many shows and seen countless others. I make trips down to NYC every so often and see as much Broadway as I can, to the point where I know midtown NYC better than a good friend who lives in the city. So of course it was great to be able to follow the action within a Broadway show, getting to see behind the scenes and how some of the last minute drama that I’m all to familiar with plays out. There’s one detail about it that got me excited beyond all reason. The real life Broadway theater they used is the St James. That’s where American Idiot played. I was there 9 times for that show. I wrote my name on the lobby wall (it was a thing for Idiot). I recognized all of the sights outside when we viewed the street, and I relished each shot of backstage, getting to see where all the magic of my obsession came together. If there was any venue I would have wanted to see that way, this would have been it.
As we trekked thru the theater and the nearby city, there was some incredible cinematography at play. Think about any movie you watch. How many times do you see cuts? Prolly every few seconds or so (less if it’s a Michael Bay flick). You cut from one side of the conversation to another. You cut between scenes. You cut and pick up when someone changes locations. Not so in Birdman. The idea was to make it all seem like one long dream-like shot. There was about ten minutes between each cut, and the ones that were there were masked to create a flow. The effect was unreal. Each piece had to be precisely choreographed so that entrances matched with the long tracking shots down twisty corridors. Then you had to hope that no one messed up their lines, or it would have had to start all over.
But oh, these actors were up to the task, leading some of the SERIOUS Oscar buzz (some are predicting as many as 10 nods total) for this film. I’ll just make a blanket statement about the difficulty with the long shots that I just mentioned. Clearly, they all kept up. Michael Keaton had the role of a lifetime. Of course, everyone is drawing the Batman/Birdman connection, but aside from that, Keaton claims Riggan Thompson is the farthest removed from himself of any character he’s ever played. Currently, he is the man to beat this year, and its not hard to see why.
And as a front runner in the supporting category, we’ve got my boy Edward Norton. To be honest, in the past couple years, his status as my fave actor was starting to fade. Not that I had anyone to replace him (Tom Hanks? Christian Bale? Channing Tatum?), but it had been so long since the days where his films allowed him performances that floored me. Birdman brought it all back. As Mike Shriner, the last minute replacement actor brought in just in time for the first preview, Norton gets to shine in a number of ways. He’s got some dramatic moments, as you find out some of the inner turmoil he goes thru, but he also has some great comedic moments. Shriner’s antics know no bounds, and Norton relishes in the chance to play them up. We’ve only seen Norton do comedy a couple times before (Death to Smoochy, Keeping the Faith), but he excels at it, and I wish he’d do more. And getting a chance to combine both ends of the spectrum of his immense skills is such a treat. Of course, any time his name is mentioned even remotely close to Oscar, I’m in his corner. I really hope this is his year. He shoulda had it 15 years ago for American History X. Birdman shows off an even more versatile and nuanced performance.
Emma Stone is also garnering some supporting buzz as Riggan’s daughter Sam, currently hired as his assistant to keep her out of trouble and in recovery. She still manages to find some trouble. A much darker turn than we’ve ever really seen from her, but with that same spark of mischief in those big eyes. Another worth mentioning is Zach Galifianakis. Usually, I can only take so much of his awkward comedy. Turns out, he doesn’t need to hide behind it. He had a few moments of frantic energy, but didn’t cross into that awkward territory he’s known for. I loved seeing him in a serious role, and really want to see more of that. Huh, it’s the inverse of Norton’s situation. Cool. Other notable names: Naomi Watts, Merritt Weaver, Amy Ryan, and prolly others that may mean more to you than me. I was describing this movie to someone, and as I usually do, I lead with the cast. Their reaction was something like “”What?! How have I not heard of this movie! I love all those people and I don’t even care what it’s about I have to see it!”” Yes. Yes you do have to see this.
Birdman – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”