WARNING: Mild Spoilers
Birdman centers around Riggan. He’s a Hollywood actor who’s fallen out of the spotlight and is struggling to make a comeback. Along the way you discover his other problems and failures. It also covers the story of multiple actors and the madness that happens behind the scenes of a play. For every aspect that goes into this film its central theme is that they all struggle with a sense of lost fame or just flat out growing older. So it feels like a mid-life crises movie for the theater crowd. Then it lightly touches with others frustrations like unwavering movie critics or a daughter they don’t have time for. The madness truly sets in when their main actor gets hurt.
I love weird movies with social and political commentary, but this was a hit and miss to me. Either the jokes were middle school grade crass or very artistically done. The jump between the differences is smooth, but unpredictable. That’s fine, but the crass jokes hamper the artistic style and flow of the film. The other neat thing is that everyone had a joke, regardless of quality, in the film. I thought this was cool since usually in most films it’s only one guy, or small group, being the catalyst for the jokes. But no, everyone was funny at least a few times.
On top of that this is a completely beautifully shot film. It has nearly no cuts in it and looks like one continuous shot. This almost made me feel like I was one of the cast members, although it had a voyeuristic feel since none of them ever interacted with the camera. The extreme closeups of the characters did add to a sense of ‘being in the moment’ with the character. It emphasized that the audience should be paying attention to the characters rather then the background. This was a neat aspect, but the background was hideously distracting since there is a insane amount of detail in just about every scene. One example is when Riggan is talking to his now ex-girlfriend and talking about how they would be bad parents.
The only thing I couldn’t stand about the film, unfortunately, was half the stories political and social commentary. I’ve heard it all before, multiple times, so it came off as completely boring to me. One part of the movie Sam (Emma Stone) freaks out on her Dad, Riggan. She states that he doesn’t matter anymore and pretty much states what he does doesn’t matter. Its a glaring commentary of people innate need to be or feel wanted, when in a dark truth none of them matter to a certain extent. So if you have the slightest clue as to what nihilism is, then this is glaringly obvious to you. Other times it hates on the audience, which is completely hilarious, but it’s still the same boring argument. Either the audience is made of art snobs like the Tabitha character or they just want a shit ton of violence and explosions which is something you hear a few times in Riggans internal rants. Both have validity, both have a important statement to make, but seriously I’ve heard it a zillion times before.
This is probably one the best all around cast performances that I’ve seen all year, maybe even in a long time. Michael Keaton probably gave one of the best performances in his career in this one. He was manic and strange and did it at sporadic levels. It was really well done and convincing. Emma Stone did a grand job looking like a complete washout with some social conscience. This was refreshing since she always picks the goody two shoes roles and how it was written was great. Most druggie characters are either the comic relief or completely assholes to the point where I don’t think I’d care if they recover or not. With her acting and the way the character is written it really does drive home how she’s just struggling to deal with everyone and life itself. Even when she expresses her fear that she doesn’t matter was rather heart wrenching. Zach Galifianakis was fantastic in this semi-dramatic role. Usually he gets handed a role that makes me wonder about the characters emotional or mental stability. This role helped prove he has range. Naomi Watts, like her other performers, is here and there. However in this one she shinned as a struggling performer who’s trying to keep it all together with a weird boyfriend and still make a living. Edward Norton was great as usual, but he’s a like Guy Pearce, Helen Mirren, or John Goodman. They rarely suck in any of their performances. To see a substandard performance would be rare and unusual. Jeremy Shamos and Damian Young shared bit roles, and were funny. However it was a shame they didn’t have more screen time. Also last, but not least, is Andrea Riseborough. She was fantastically creepy as the super unstable girlfriend and as a performer who was too into acting.
The cast and crew should be thoroughly pleased with themselves. They’ve made a hell of a film that covers vast topics in a really cramped time frame. I am forced to give it a lower rating though because I’ve heard it all before. To me it’s like talking to a green peace guy who cries about the environment but then doesn’t go out and plant trees, or any other kind of foliage for that matter, to offset the CO2 caused by pollution hes just complained about. So it’s kinda like more pretentious crying, but I can’t say that as a absolute considering it presents a lot of the philosophical topics in a different light. Even if I didn’t care for it it was done very well with clever black comedy. Also the black comedy is so well done it even gave me a warm cynical smile sometimes without feeling shitty. This is noteworthy since black comedy usually more grotesque or even mean to the point of many people, with a soul, end up hating the punchline.
This is a great thinking film. If you want to find yourself asking questions about life, love, fame, and self importance long after the film, then watch this. This might even be a good piece to analyze later in some art class or a philosophy class. Regardless you should probably see this at least once for the balance character development and the great performance by everyone, and I do mean EVERYONE.