Birdman (2014)

Oh, where do I start with Birdman. It was so different, so bold, so ambitious, but it pulled off what it was looking to achieve so perfectly.

The thought I had consistently throughout this film was how meta it is. The film was a really thoughtful satire about acting, theater, Hollywood, critics, Michael Keaton’s career, and more. Extremely self-aware, extremely reflective. So good.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but one of my favorite things about this film was how it played with audience expectations. I’ll talk more about it after the trailer, but let me tease you by saying it reminded me of Magritte. This movie was so introspective that it made me think of surrealist art. My friends and I left the theater feeling like we had left one of our humanities seminars in college.

First of all, it stars Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed up actor who previously found fame starring in comic book superhero films “Birdman”. You did hear me mention that this film satirizes Michael Keaton’s acting career, right? Maybe it would have been a more subtle satire if they had cast a different actor, but it was so perfect with Keaton playing the role himself. (For those not in the know, Michael Keaton is most famous for playing Batman in Tim Burton’s films Batman and Batman Returns.) The movie mirrors his career very closely; at one point, he cites how the last Birdman movie he did was in 1992, which is the year that Batman Returns was released.

Michael Keaton is great. What a stupendous performance. I really know him best from Beetlejuice, actually, but this has really opened my eyes to Michael Keaton as an actor. Amazing comeback performance. He delivers so simply but deliberately. Just excellent work on his part.

I loved this movie stylistically. The pseudo-one-take style made for really great transitions that I was a big fan of. One criticism is that the shakiness of the camerawork would get distracting. It really lent an indie film feeling to it, not really in a good way. It would seem amateurish at times, to have tight shots that were wavering over an actor’s face.

But speaking of these tight shots, I really appreciated the emphasis on the actors’ monologues in this. Combined with the seamless cinematography, the monologues added to the theater feeling of this movie, which I found refreshing. How often do you watch a movie that feels a bit like watching a play? Even when Hollywood adapts plays for films, you lose that. I loved this.

I also have to really commend Edward Norton. I haven’t seen a film of his in a long while and this performance is pretty different from the ones I’ve seen in the past. He plays Mike Shiner, a diva stage actor who is incapable of much else but acting. I forgot how much I love watching Edward Norton. He is the secondary protagonist, I would argue, for this film. While he is the source of most of the comic moments in the film, there’s this darkness in his character that we see slowly being resolved over the course of the movie. This is the kind of role that makes you an Edward Norton fan, trust me.

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu did a great job and I appreciated many of his little deliberate touches. For example, in the opening shot, we see a brief glimpse – maybe a one-second cutaway – of jellyfish on the beach. If you weren’t paying attention, you wouldn’t have know what it was or you would have missed it completely. By the end of the movie, we know what this moment was, it is significant. Little things like this are so pleasing to me in movies, tying little ends together at the beginning and end of a film.

More comments after the trailer:

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