Friday, February 20, 2015

Birdman: A Review

As I sit here attempting to figure out what I thought about Birdman, I am having a hard time deciding whether I really liked it or simply appreciated it for what it offered while being incredibly annoyed at the entire experience. The line between artistic, unique filmmaking and ridiculous nonsense is often so thin that it's difficult to determine what a movie actually is. In this case, I can see both sides of the story.
If you don't like reaching out of your comfort zone in a movie and having numerous questions that are never answered, this movie isn't one you should see. The entire movie is based on an attempted comeback of a has-been superhero actor played by Michael Keaton (whom I have always loved and loved in this movie). He has spent the majority of his career playing Birdman, but hasn't done much in the last twenty years. In an attempt to prove he is a real actor willing to take risks, he writes, directs, and stars in an theatrical adaptation of a book that will premiere on Broadway, which he and his lawyer friend (Zach Galafinakis) spend all of their money to produce. We are introduced to Keaton's character from the beginning with questionable "powers." In the opening scene, we see him floating in his dressing room while meditating, which is the beginning of many "magical" occurances that happen thoughout the film. These occurances are eventually shown as his hallucinations; in one scene. he is angry and begins destroying his dressing room using telekinesis. But as other people come in, we see he is actually picking up the items with his hands. This storyline is essential, as reality and what is going on in his head are constantly at battle and contributes entirely to what will end up providing the debate of the ending of the movie.  
As the film continues, it becomes obvious that the character of Birdman is a second voice in his head that taunts and tempts him into self-doubt. We see the film over a series of four nights, three previews of the Broadway show and opening night and the entire movie is filmed in one continuous shot - which made me wonder if this unique technique isn't the reason the movie received such accolades. If this hadn't been the case, would the movie have been as good? I hardly think so. The filmmaking itself is what deserves the praise here, not the actual storyline. I realized as I was watching the movie and began reading some background on the director and his vision, that I appreciated the movie much more, once I learned the challenge of making a movie like this is. I don't think I should have to read background to know a movie is good, but in this case, it was necessary to me fully appreciating the film.
There are several character studies going on here as well. The main antaagonist in the film is played by Edward Norton, a narcissistic yet legendary theater actor known in New York, whose style of acting is offensive and crude, yet incredibly effective. I felt like the underlying tone of Michael Keaton's character is that he questions what would have become of his career had he opted not to play such a popular character and chosen to play serious roles instead. Norton's character is who he would have been - a man so successful onstage, yet so incredibly unrelatable as a person offstage. Norton plays the character flawlessly, I love him but really didn't care for him most of the time, which was the point. We also get to know his daughter, played by Emma Stone, a grown woman struggling to come to grips with her father, who had been non-existent in her childhood but more than present through adulthood. We see through her perspective that she is as quirky and odd as her father, but has spend her adulthood overcoming a dad who wasn't bad, he just wasn't there. By the end, we see her come to terms with his reality as we watch her see her father "fly away" in the end scene after seeing him jump out of a window.
I came out of this movie thinking on a certain level, it was a cool film. During the movie, I was annoyed at several things. I feel like the movie was longer than it needed to be. I also got very annoyed at the constant sound of drums as the background music. I felt as if the music was there to serve as an effort to keep the suspense going but I started feeling very distracted by it. This was an addition to the film I could have lived without, or perhaps lived with less of. As far as the magical parts of the movie, I felt like it was very difficult to connect what we saw to what he was thinking. Perhaps I am too dumb to make the connection, but I felt like it was a real reach to tie the two ideals together. I almost can't really put my finger on what the "magic" was supposed to represent, other than just to show how disconnected he was becoming from reality at this stage in his life and career. Or perhaps it was him finding it more difficult to disconnect from the powers of his character, Birdman, even though Birdman's powers are never revealed. Either way, it was ambiguous at best.
Keaton's performance was amazing. He did a great job of playing the character he was expected to play and I will be voting for him to win the Oscar. He is the reason I liked the movie, because with the wrong actor, this movie would have been borderline unwatchable.
Bottom line - if you don't like artsy movies, don't even waste your time. It is hardly entertainment and it is certainly not feel good. It is billed as a dark comedy, but I would bill it more as darkly twisted and ironic. This is one of those movies where there are no redeeming qualities of the main character and while we see him, in the end, get what he wanted - relevance and a successful play - we still watch him descend into the madness of his brain with no hopes of coming back out. It's not the worst movie I've seen, but it certainly isn't the best. Watch it when it comes out on Netflix where you won't feel guilty turning it off, since you didn't pay $6 for it, like I did.

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