Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014)
From Batman to Birdman. It seems apt that in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Michael Keaton plays a washed up actor best known for his earlier success as the star of a superhero franchise, who now just wants to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, – and this is my only criticism of the whole film – despite Birdman’s voice sounding extremely similar to Batman’s, Keaton never does utter the words “I’m Birdman”. This is a massive missed opportunity, but I’m holding out hope that he’ll say it in his Oscar speech, should he win.
Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, an actor who has invested everything into what is probably the best possible thing in the world: BROADWAY. Adapting Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love for the stage he wears the impressive – but potentially over-ambitious – triple hat of director, writer, and actor. On the day of the first preview one of the actors is unable to go on, prompting actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) to recommend her boyfriend Mike (Edward Norton) for the part. Riggan simultaneously attempts to manage Mike’s diva antics, a romantic relationship with another actress (Andrea Riseborough), a complicated history with his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), his recovering drug addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), his neurotic lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), and a reviewer (Lindsay Duncan) who is out for blood. All the while he is plagued by the voice of his alter ego, Birdman.
Birdman is best described as a kooky but brilliant dramedy – it is strangely optimistic, while being rather dark. It’s also hilarious in parts, and the idiots online asking for viewers to explain what exactly is funny about it, must have been watching another film. It produces frequent laughs from the audience, despite an ominous undertone and a few heart-racing moments. Those who only wish to see films with one straight genre should avoid this one and go see something rubbish instead. I hear Taken 3 is out.
This will win the Oscar for best original screenplay (whether it will beat out Boyhood for best picture is yet to be seen), with an emphasis on the word original. There have been films about the behind the scenes happenings of Broadway plays before, but not quite like this. The dialogue is tremendous, the story slightly off-kilter in the best possible way, and is so different to what we’re used to seeing that you may even leave feeling a little bit confused as to what you’ve just experienced. Was it all a dream? Probably not but the way the film plays with Riggan’s mental state means that the film takes on an almost magical quality. Plus, it’s always fun to poke fun at stupid superhero movies. Iñárritu’s direction is sublime – Birdman is staged very much like a play and his use of one long seemingly continuous shot that follows one character and then the next is pure magic. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski (Oscar winner for Gravity) has nailed it yet again. The percussion score by Antonio Sanchez is extremely effective, adding a sense of claustrophobia and confusion that is almost annoying except that it’s brilliant.
No surprises that the cast are all total dynamite as well. Michael Keaton gives the performance of his career and is currently hot favourite to bring home Oscar gold next month. Edward Norton is an absolute cracker in his role as a complete dick, and I’d be rooting for him in the best supporting actor category if I wasn’t already firmly on the J.K. Simmons (Whiplash) bandwagon. Emma Stone is probably at her best as the fragile Sam, and her eyes have never looked bigger. (Maybe that’s because she’s a drug addict, but I think it’s just her face.) I feel like I haven’t seen Naomi Watts play an American character in yonks and she reminded me just how good she is. Meanwhile Zach Galifianakis is more than just the hilarious idiot in The Hangover films – he’s a damn fine actor.
Movie buffs will have this as a high priority on their must-see lists, but if you’re one of those people who only gets out to see a movie once in a blue moon, and you’re looking for that one film this month: Birdman is your best bet. It’s way more interesting than a pompous take on British history (The Imitation Game), certainly more left-field than a predictable comedy (St Vincent), infinitely better than Russell Crowe’s attempt in the director’s seat (The Water Diviner) and while I personally think Into the Woods is pretty brilliant too, I understand not everyone appreciates the musical genre. (I haven’t seen Taken 3 but if you choose that as your one movie, you’re a disgrace to society.) If you dislike originality, stick with one of the above, but if you enjoy quality cinema there is no competition.