Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) written by Alejandro González Iñárritu and Nicolás Giacobone, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (New Regency Pictures, M Prods, Grisbi Productions, R, 119 min)
Starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Edward Norton.
Hollywood Award Ceremony
Watch one Hollywood award ceremony and you’ve seen them all. Without fail, these shows elicit a self-congratulatory nature. There’s a sense in which every presenter truly believes her craft—acting—exists as one of the most important things in our society. Like medical doctors, social workers, teachers, and non-profit administrators, the actor exposes the injustice of the world, brings healing to others, and educates the younger generations to make this world a better place.
Even though she seems to believe this position, let’s be honest; an actor acts. An actor earns massive amounts of money for pretending to be someone else for a few hours to create an escape for the viewer from what might be a miserable life. Is that contribution to society important?
For me, I would prefer to have film at my recreational disposal. But if faced with a difficult decision between cutting doctors, social workers, teachers, or anyone in a non-profit, actors would get the axe without fail.
But actors will continue to celebrate their craft. And as long as that happens, films like Birdman will receive critical acclaim and Oscar buzz.
The story follows Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up actor most famous for playing a superhero called Birdman. Having refused a 4th go at the blockbuster franchise decades ago, Riggan remains haunted by the voice of Birdman and his glorious, former, famous self.
Hoping to reignite his status, Riggan writes, directs, and stars in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Having invested much of his money into this Broadway production, Riggan needs this play to become a big hit. He even takes on the volatile Broadway star, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) to add more luster to the bill.
In early previews, the play encounters grievous hiccups, only adding to Riggan’s stress. His lawyer/producer, Jake (Zach Galifianakis), attempts to keep Riggan sane, yet also constantly reminds him of the precarious nature of everyone’s position.
Even worse, Riggan’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), works as an assistant but her history as a recovering addict adds more stress to Riggan’s plate.
In the end, this play lives or dies by the review of an influential Broadway critic, Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), who possesses infinite amounts of disdain for Hollywood types and their grand ideas about the nature of acting as a source of good in the world.
Given Tabitha’s well-known position, will Riggan make it past opening night?
The meta nature of Birdman holds the powerful potential for a deep Oscar run. For starters, Michael Keaton is Riggan Thompson, having been the star of the blockbuster Batman series twenty years ago, before dwindling into semi-obscurity. This career arc closely resembles the arc of Riggan and his Birdman series.
Additionally, Birdman promotes the virtues of acting quite clearly, painting a clear link between identity and the craft, suggesting the importance of the art form, and the need for Hollywood types to engage in such vocations. This theme, in particular, represents catnip for the Academy.
For me, the film is enjoyable, especially given its execution. Iñárritu establishes the story through a tracking shot. While by letter of the law, the whole movie isn’t actually a tracking shot—a careful eye will show the places where natural cuts occur, the feel of the tracking shot exists throughout the film. It provides a sense of urgency, an ADD-like energy as the camera flies through halls, onto stage, and up into the rafters of the Broadway theater.
The style and execution make Birdman a must see, even if the insistence on the importance of acting feels a little overwrought. Check it out.
Verdict: 3.5 out of 5