Birdman Review

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By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007)

No matter how old we become, we can all look back and find high points of our lives. Maybe they were your high school years, maybe your college years. Maybe it was a time you lived abroad and experienced true freedom. For some people, as they get older, they take a look at their lives, where they were and if they are currently where they expected to be. But what happens when one’s life isn’t where it should be and we long for the days of old when things were at their peak? Such is the premise for the latest film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a former mega star who has seen his glory days fly past him much like the superhero character he was known for, Birdman. He knows Hollywood is a cut-throat city and, if he wants to gain credibility again, he needs to do it himself. So he decides to mount a stage adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, which he’s written (and made some changes to make himself the focal point), directed, and stars in with Lesley (Naomi Watts), another film star making her Broadway debut, and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), who may be pregnant with his child. When one of the other male leads becomes incapacitated, Riggan reaches out to Lesley’s boyfriend, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a major film star, to bring some Hollywood power to the film. But conflicts between the two men, along with Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a fresh from rehab woman now working as her father’s personal assistant, could lead to the production’s demise. Will Riggan be able to salvage the show and regain his star spot in film or will he fizzle out like so many before him?

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Inarritu is a master at storytelling, as was expressed with such films as Babel, 21 Grams, and Biutiful. Here he does it with a long shot over the course of the two hour film. A steady cam is used to track throughout the goings-on back stage as it weaves in and out of dressing rooms, through the stage, up on the balconies, and through doors outside the theater into the streets. The audience is given great insight into the lives of actors and crew of a stage production and what occasionally goes on that the public never sees. And the transitions are seamless, as the audience never knows that the actual story takes place over a couple of days since there are no cuts and the camera just keeps moving along seamlessly. The utmost credit must go to Emmanuel Lubezki, who also was brilliant with his cinematography in Gravity.

Aside from the brilliance in the way the film was shot is the equally, if not more so, brilliance of the actors. What’s amazing about the script is how it allows its actors to all play deeply fleshed out and flawed human beings. Keaton’s character parallels his real life, after portraying Batman back in 1989 and the lack of success after. Here, he knows he’s washed up as a Hollywood star, but still fights to hold on to some semblance of the life he had, much as we fight to hold on to things in our lives based on what was and not what is now. His character is a reflection of Hollywood today where someone successful in one medium may feel they can suddenly go into another medium and demand to be treated as “elite” while not giving respect to those who have worked in said medium most of their lives. Emma Stone is a daughter who never really had her father there for her, and this has had a significant impact on her life with her foray into drugs and rehab. She has “daddy issues” and finds men to fill that unfillable void, while also bringing wisdom to her father, showing him that he can’t live in the past and has to tackle today and move on with his life. Norton, on the other hand, plays a version of himself as well, knowing that he is good and making demands to be in a stage production (which is below him), implementing the diva label that so many actors have obtained. There are so many great performances, as this is an ensemble film with the focus still being on Keaton, that to speak of each actor would be a review in itself. There is no end of respect that can be given to this cast for the work they’ve done.

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While Birdman may sound like a drama, it is also a comedy and part sci-fi/supernatural at the same time. The film starts out with Keaton floating in midair in a meditative pose, which gives us an idea that this isn’t your typical film. But each element is woven together so flawlessly that it all makes sense and works out. Birdman takes Hollywood and puts it in its crosshairs, calling out the industry, the actors, the media, and the glorification that comes with fame and fortune. Birdman is one of the best films of the year, and Michael Keaton gives one of the best performances of 2014. There’s no doubt both the film and Keaton will have nominations come awards season. Birdman is an absolute treat and a must see for anyone who likes film, theatre, or good stories.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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