Monday, February 2, 2015
Not willing to only stay remembered for his superhero blockbuster franchise "Birdman" from the 90s, middle aged actor Riggan Thomson is keen to finally prove he can also be an accomplished dramatic actor with a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love". Not only is he starring in the play, but also directing it and financing his last penny for it. It is plagued by numerous problems - his girlfriend Laura announces she is pregnant; daughter Sam is distanced from him; method actor Mike is terribly arrogant... - but he manages to deliver the play and earn rave reviews by shooting his nose off in the final act.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's first foray into the satire genre is a genuine surprise: "Birdman" is a virtuoso directed parable where the problems behind the stage of a play are a synecdoche for the trials and tribulations of creating any kind of art in general, whereas it also gives a grand homage to Michael Keaton, who hereby gives a bravura performance that also symbolically sums up his entire career. Inarritu takes the hard way and directs the film with incredible long takes - there are less than 30 cuts in the entire film - which gives the storyline passion and instills admiration for it, and also triggers a more demanding tone: you just have to admire these actors more when they talk for up to 15 minutes without making a mistake, and it isn't just a technicality, since it is congruent with the realistic feel of theatre, where the focus is also on actors and raw, pure story.
The opening scene, where Riggan exits his dressing room, walks down the stairs and to the stage, talks to the actors and then returns to the dressing room on the first floor, is amazing and done in one take, but the story also offers numerous clever dialogues that say a lot about actors and life in general or are just plain funny ("You confuse love with admiration"; "You don't get a hard on my stage unless I tell you so!"; "Let me tell you something, you spiteful nobody piece of shit!" - "Nobody? My hard-on has already 50,000 views on Youtube" - "50,000 views? A cat playing with a dildo has more than that!"; "You risk nothing of yourself! Well, I'm an actor and this play has cost me everything!") and delves into selfreferential fantasy elements reminiscent of Fellini's "8 1/2" when Riggan has hallucinations of the Birdman superhero, from whose clutches he intends to finally get rid off, "fly away" from that typecasting and finally be free to do what he wants. The opening and ending may offer a little too much of the allegorical, which may seem tedious at a few moments, but other than that, "Birdman" is a fresh and alive film that finally gave fresh blood into the modern movie genre.