Washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) attempts to make his Hollywood comeback by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play. In the heat of his efforts, he faces several obstacles in the form of family, co-workers, and his chaotic alter-ego; the superhero character he was once famous for – Birdman.
This film is simply incredible. It’s strongest and most powerful quality has to be how it poetically conveys different layers of subtext, meaning, and social/political commentary through an electrifyingly witty screenplay, colourfully personal performances, and innovative film direction. If one had the time to extensively study this film after several viewings, I’m sure the amount of intriguing interpretive analysis would increase. However, considering I’ve only had the benefit of watching it once (so far), these are the most obvious connotations I have noticed. The foremost message (given its narrative significance) would have to be the physical and mental stress actors are under whilst working on and preparing for stage plays. This is obvious with almost every element of preparation catastrophically exploding in the buildup to ‘the big night’. Seeing as this theme is at the core of the film’s narrative, its ideas spill over to the next layer of understanding.
It highlights issues most of us inevitably face when hitting a certain point in life. In context of the narrative, it’s how Riggan struggles coming to terms with his own shortcomings (The fact that he’s no longer the man of the hour, his desperate attempt to return to the limelight, and how he deals with other people.) And ultimately, the entire film boils down to an existential questioning of truth and meaning; whether the perception of other’s judgment is of any importance?, and whether being famous truly means anything? The film’s core seems to openly bellow these questions to its viewer whilst contentedly not being able to submit an answer.
We get superb performances from a solid star line-up with the likes of Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and of course, Birdman himself, Michael Keaton. At first glance of that line-up, it’s fair to say it’s somewhat of a mixed bag with newcomers, currently popular, and old-favourites all on board but every single performance is powerfully effective. Emma Stone is as goofy and ‘dork-ward’ as you’d expect but she plays the part of a troubled rehab daughter very well. This portrayal adds a new tender string to her bow. Naomi Watts is as sumptuously splendid as you’d hope, Andrea Riseborough continues her gradual climb up the Hollywood ladder with another notable turn, and Ed Norton sharply gives one of his funniest and most electric performances to date.
It’s really refreshing to see Zach Galifianakis perform outside of his usual quirky dead-pan persona by presenting much more of a human character in the form of Jake (Riggan’s producer and close friend.) I hope to see him flex his acting chops with similar roles in the future. But of course, the most notorious showing comes from the comeback king himself, Michael Keaton. This film is obviously something of a personal statement for Keaton considering it’s more or less an allegory for his role as Batman. It really is astounding to see this man back to his playful but dramatic best and I really hope we get to see more of what made him so popular in the 80’s (most notably Beetlejuice, Batman, and Night Shift).
The camerawork in the film is exceptional (almost pioneering) as it takes the single-shot to another level by seemingly gliding throughout without any (or at most 2 – 3) cuts. It is masterfully executed as it feels so organically subtle and does not detract from any narrative, character or aesthetic detail. It really gives the film its rhythmic jazz tempo along with the obvious contribution of Antonio Sanchez’s incredible bebop score which finely complements Innaritu’s sharply funny dialogue.
A perfect way to start for film in 2015.
5 Raging Hard-Ons out of 5
by Simon Garganera Price