Film Review: Birdman

Monday 12 January 2015 by

Film, Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Edward Norton, Lindsay Duncan

In this darkly comic surrealist outing, we follow a washed up actor as he battles to bring his play to the stage against a method actor taking his methods to the extreme, a recovering drug addict daughter and the brutal inner voice of his last greatest role – Birdman.

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), is the latest outing from director Alejandro González Iñárritu and features Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Edward Norton and Lindsay Duncan. This highly-claustrophobic follows Riggan (Keaton) as he struggles to get his play – a Raymond Carver – up and running on Broadway. In a series of set-pieces (not unlike a series of Raymond Carver short stories), we unravel the characters and their stories. The camera quite literally follows them around the theatre, in often-stomach-churning swooping scenes that waver between close-ups of the characters and panning across bare stone walls.

Visually, this is a beautiful film, with some stark images cutting through the generally darker setting. The dialogue is pithy and quick, feeling very much ad-libbed and natural rather than anything too scripted, and the characters are bright and clear.

There is a clever play of surrealism as well, with the moments between Riggan and his other Birdman personality perfectly balancing between fantasy and could-be-real. The comic moments are darkly hilarious, encouraging an embarrassed snort rather than laugh out loud, and this fits well with the overall desperate feel of the film. Each character, although not totally clean figures and often unpleasant, are hugely sympathetic, with stark moments of vulnerability glimpsed between the viciousness of the dialogue.

I am a huge fan of Keaton (although he will always be Beetlejuice to me), but the stand-out stars were most definitely Norton, Watts and Stone. Their scenes with each other are the highlights of the film, building on genuine affection to create stubbornly realistic relationships. Norton manages to walk the line between tragedy and tongue-in-cheek self-parody, whilst Watts’ trembling neuroticism is a brilliant foil for Keaton and Norton’s selfishness. As for Stone – her furious, beaten-up character is pure delight, wandering from childish delight to jaded teenager. Sadly, the connection between Keaton and Stone’s characters were the least believable, meaning that Stone’s character was often lost behind the booming Riggan.

The other actor who deserves a nod is Galifianakis, who plays the hard-pressed, hard-nosed and excitable Jake, desperately trying to hold the play together long enough to get it to opening night. This is the most serious role I have seen him play to date, and he is certainly destined for greater.

This is a film that screams of low-budget indie, yet glows with the delight of a Hollywood classic. It has an earthy quality sure to endear it to even the hardest film critic, yet slides with ease to the wider audience. Its pop-culture references and self-deprecation indicates a huge love for the industry, yet does away with the rose-tinted glasses in an effort to expose the tragi-comic nature of acting and narcissistic modern mood of today’s culture.

Riseborough and Duncan neatly bookend a film that has all the qualities of the cult-hit. It will only grow stronger with age, but is worth seeing now in order to appreciate it a second, third, and thousandth time.

Related Posts

Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *