Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is one of the most unique and thought provoking films I have seen in years. What’s even better is that it is also one of the most entertaining Oscar nominees in years as well. Not a moment feels stale or boring. The variety of characters feel real and raw. The performances are full of power and energy. Every second drew me in and by the end I knew exactly what to believe.
Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a Hollywood has-been known for his superhero movies turned Broadway newbie. He is starring in, directing, and funding a play based off of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love. He sees this play as his last shot to contribute something great and artistic into the world. But inside him, Birdman is trying to get out and he thinks this play is just a bunch of philosophical fluff and bullshit that rich white people will see before dinner.
Birdman is this amazing side of Riggan. He tells Riggan the truth, as unsavory as it may be. As Birdman, Riggan can move objects with his mind and even fly. One of my favorite scenes is when we see a physical manifestation of Birdman following Riggan around as he walks down the street after a rough night. He is almost like a motivational coach, pumping up Riggan as he walks, “60 is the new 30, motherf*cker!” And then, in a wonderfully surreal moment, he shows Riggan exactly what a red blooded Friday night movie theater wants, action, explosions, CGI destruction, “People, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit.” And then Riggan flies. It’s wonderful.
Around Riggan are his castmates and daughter, Sam (Emma Stone). Sam is a troubled millennial, out of rehab and keeping out of trouble by being her father’s personal assistant. Her big rant to her dad is so raw and cuts so deep, we feel taken aback. I think that is the scene that landed Stone her Oscar nomination. Mike (Edward Norton) is a new cast member who ends up stealing the show many times and in many ways. The friction and chemistry between Riggan and Mike is so entertaining and it can go from serious to hilarious in a heartbeat.
Birdman works with some very modern themes and leaves us to decide where allegiances should lie. There are ideas on being a celebrity and the privilege and power that can come with it, especially if you can stay relevant. Riggan is not in the movie theaters or the digital world, and is only somebody because of his past as Birdman. It seems that everyone but him knows the equations: Money = power. Celebrity = power. A video of you walking through Times Square in your tighty whities = power. But Riggan already has Birdman and he wants to give the world something he considers real art. Will this play fulfill him, make him relevant again or just drain him of everything he has?
Birdman ties The Grand Budapest Hotel for the most Oscar nominations this year; a whopping nine. They include three acting nominations: Michael Keaton (Lead Actor), Emma Stone (Supporing Actress) and Edward Norton (Supporting Actor). Alejandro González Iñárritu is in the race for best director, his second nomination. The other awards include original screenplay, cinematography, sound mixing, sound editing and Best Picture.
There is so much to say in praise of Birdman, I could go on for hours and hours. The cinematography turns the cramped back of the theater into a mesmerizing labyrinth. The music is just jazz drum solos (a nice theme for this year), that seem to portray Riggan’s emotions. The lines between what is real and what is in Riggan’s mind are so blurred so perfectly that I do not want to know where the Birdman powers really stop. All the performances are wonderful, from Amy Ryan to Zach Galifianakis, the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for best cast is so well deserved. And when Michael Keaton flies, I lift my eyes to the sky with joy.
“Stop looking at the world through your cellphone screens. Have a real experience! Does anybody give a shit about truth other than me?”