spoilers warning just in case
Saw Birdman with my Mum tonight. It’s nice to see a much-hyped movie that actually deserves the critical drooling, once in a while. We discussed it briefly once the credits got rolling, and both agreed that we’ve never seen anything quite like this movie.
I had no idea what to expect, to be honest, as the few reviews I’ve read were rather vague, deliberately so I suspect. All I knew was that it had Michael Keaton as Riggan, a washed-up Hollywood actor who was once famous for portraying the superhero Batman, I mean Birdman, struggling to put up a Broadway play as some kind of last-ditch attempt at success and validation. So far so typical and a kind of scenario I’ve seen in many many films; you know, a hero down on his luck has his last chance and blah blah blah. And I guess I was pretty certain that, somehow, despite all odds, the play would turn out to be a huge success and wipe the smug smile off the face of Lindsay Duncan’s bitchy theatre critic. And yes that’s in fact what happens, but there’s absolutely nothing predictable about the way it gets there, or the way Riggan’s personal dramas play out. Just when you think that certain things will go a certain way, the movie goes nope! and nothing of the kind happens. Like, when Riggan’s girlfriend announces her pregnancy to him, you kinda automatically expect some cliched developments that would have happened for sure in another movie, but here it just gets dropped and never becomes a big thing at all.
The movie is ingeniously shot in a way to make it look like one long continuous take; the camera just roams around following one character and then another and then another, switching between interior and street scenes, in a sort of a cinematic dance. It’s accompanied mostly by a nervy, jazzy drum score. At first I thought it was going to drive me up the wall, but in fact it’s a brilliant choice that really added to the energy and the feeling of unpredictability. The movie really captures the feel and vibe of New York and the chaotic, frazzled behind-the-scenes atmosphere of the theatre.
Riggan’s costumed alter-ego, Birdman, adds a surreal touch to the proceedings, and I loved how they built him up in the movie, first as the raspy voice in Riggan’s head and then culminating in an over-the-top sequence straight out of a superhero movie, in which the now fully visible Birdman shows how awesome things would be again if Riggan made another Birdman movie. Riggan’s powers, which include flying and telekinesis, are surely all in his head… or are they? The movie kinda leaves it up to the viewer to decide. Me, I always loved the idea of real-life magic.
The cast was truly outstanding – it was the kind of movie where everyone, even those in minor roles, just fire on all cylinders and spark off each other. I’ve been a fan of Edward Norton since American History X, but his masked turn as King Baldwin in 2005’s Kingdom of Heaven was the last time I truly loved a performance of his; since then it was a long dry patch with minor appearances in Wes Anderson’s movies now and then. So it was great to see him in a substantial role again, as a vain and bullish actor, who comes in as the last-minute replacement in Riggan’s play and who is hilariously serious about his Art. Michael Keaton was outstanding in the lead; Emma Stone continues to make smart acting choices and is fantastic as Riggan’s messed-up daughter. It’s probably part make-up but sheesh her eyes looked just huge in her face, almost like an anime character or something. Wonderfully expressive eyes, too.
When I got home the Murray-Berdych match was still going, with a schizophrenic score of 7-6, 0-5. Murray is kinda dour but hey he’s a ginger and Scottish and I have a soft spot for both, so go Murray.