Birdman Flies High and Never Drops

Michael+Keaton+stars+in+Birdman.

Michael Keaton stars in Birdman.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally be able to watch an Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu film without wanting to curl up and die afterwards. Don’t get me wrong, I like his movies. It’s just that the guy dwells in misery the same way the Saw movies dwell in gore. Seriously, his first two (and up until now his best) movies, Amores Perros and 21 Grams, were both about three stories connected through a car crash that brings everyone involved to misery and despair. Babel was about a single tragedy that connects four continents through fate and misfortune. And then Buitiful was about a single father of two girls who works on the black market and is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Real uplifting filmmaker here. So what’s his newest one, Birdman, about? Its a comedy! Sort of. Go figure.

However to call Birdman just a comedy wouldn’t do the film nearly enough justice. It’s a touching drama, a comeback for Michael Keaton, and a showcase for Keaton’s, Ed Norton’s, and Zach Galifianakis’s acting skills, along with a satire of both the theater world and modern superhero movies, and its unique in that it’s shot to look like one long, continuous take. Really, the only thing this movie isn’t, is bad. It’s so incredibly rare these days to find a movie willing to try so many new and risky things. Birdman succeeds not only by trying risky things, but by making them work, making it one of the best movies of this, or any other, year.

For me, the biggest pleasure was just to see Keaton in a starring role again. At first, it just seems like stunt casting, since Keaton was famous for playing Batman in the first 2 Batman movies, and here, he plays Riggian Thomas, an actor who became famous for playing the superhero Birdman in three movies before quitting the role. But it is more than that. He fits the part not because of his resume, but because he is a great actor, and this is a new career high for him. Like his character, he risks it all, and for him, it pays off. It is one of the the best performances of the year and if there is any justice in the world, he will get an Oscar for it.

Now, he’s washed up and forgotten (Riggian, that is). So to stage his comeback and to make himself relevant again, he is writing, directing, and starring in his own play. However, things aren’t running so smoothly. One of the actors gets a concussion from a stage light falling on him, so they have to hire a new actor, Mike Shinner (Norton), to replace him. Riggian is, at first, happy about this, since he hated the first actor, but begins to run into trouble when Mike starts to steal the spotlight. He’s also arrogant, hard to work with, and has a huge ego, which is fitting because Norton is supposedly like this in real life. Riggian also has to mortgage his house in order to pay Mike, so now he’s dead broke and completely relying on this play.

Other problems include Riggian’s daughter (Emma Stone, in a career best performance), who’s just out of rehab and resents her father with a burning passion. In one particular scene between her and Riggian, she streams out all her hate and anger in one long rant against him. It is overwhelmingly powerful. I hate to admit it, but had it lasted for 5 more seconds, I would have cried. To see Riggian berated like that, especially by his own daughter, was just too much for me to handle.

And yet another problem is an angry New York Times writer Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) who hates Hollywood actors on Broadway and vows to write the worst review in her life about it to close it opening night. And considering the play hasn’t had a single successful rehearsal, she might be able to.

Reading all of this may make Birdman sound more like a depressing drama and character study than a comedy, but somehow it is an even blend of both. For every dramatic scene, there’s one comedic. I won’t give anything away, but some of my favorites include Riggian getting locked out of the theater, his Birdman screech, and his analogy about a tiny him with a hammer.

I loved Birdman. I loved the acting (especially Keaton), I loved how it was all done in one take, I loved that the story was multi-layered, I loved how it took risks, and I loved how it paid off. It is one of the best movies of this, or any year.

Yes, it is that good.

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