How badly do we want to be wanted? Deep down inside we all yearn to have a purpose on this planet beyond popularity, but how often is legacy confused for popularity? Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film Birdman, starring the underrated Michael Keaton, is about a washed up actor named Riggan Thompson that once ruled the box office by playing a superhero in a string of movies. Now just an afterthought, Riggan pursues relevancy once again by starring, writing, and directing a broadway play. Joining Keaton is a cast of amazing talent, including Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, and Zach Galifianakis.
Unique is such a strong word to use, especially in the world of cinema, but unique is the perfect fit for Birdman. Remember that amazing tracking shot in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas? This film does that, or at least gives us the illusion of it, for its entire run time. This makes the film itself seem like a living, breathing organism. We follow the characters, unfiltered by edits, yet it’s still cinematically artistic in that there’s no documentary feel to it at all. It actually feels like you’re watching a surreal stage play unfold. Yes, sometimes it feels exhausting, but that adds to the experience. When Riggan goes further down the rabbit hole of insanity, the film soars higher, utilizing special effects to further the character development rather than just feed the audience eye-candy.
The script is layered with commentary about social media gods, celebrity power, and especially the natural feeling of wanting to be somebody. Above all, it’s an entertaining script that’s darkly humorous in all the right ways. It’s also a very memorable script, one that lingers in your head and makes you think and also makes you laugh (as I write this, I recall Riggan personifying his play as someone repeatedly hitting him in the balls with a tiny hammer). Of course, it wouldn’t be worth a dime of your time if it weren’t for the pitch perfect cast.
This is Michael Keaton’s show from the very first scene of him floating in tranquility in his whitey tighties. Keaton amazingly shuffles through a variety of emotions, tackling Riggan’s struggle of being relevant in a world defined by brevity. Riggan crumbles in one scene and soars in the next, constantly trying to ignore the dark Birdman voice in his head telling him that he’s a god. If you were wondering, Keaton does do the Birdman voice, which sounds like a better version of Christian Bale’s Batman voice. When Keaton is onscreen, it’s a sin to look away; he’s in control of his out of control character. Through Keaton’s hilariously bold and revealing performance, we sympathize with him as much as we are disgusted by his selfishness.
Although Keaton gives a smoldering performance there are quite a few supporting actors that turn in amazing efforts in the film as well, most notably Edward Norton as Mike, a method actor that only finds truth on stage. Norton as Mike gives a hysterical performance, and entertainingly depicts why some method actors are hard to work with. If it wasn’t for Keaton’s performance, Norton would have stole the show. Emma Stone is also another standout, playing Riggan’s daughter, especially in scenes with Keaton. One scene in particular with Keaton allows her to let her hands go, and it stings to watch. There are no weak links in the cast, as everyone has their moments.
Birdman is without a doubt one of the best films to come out this year, and it would be the same case if it came out any other year before this one. It challenges us to decipher what art is, how we perceive legacy, and the human condition of wanting to be loved. The film exercises everything that is important about cinema, and hilariously goes for the throat at the rest. Essentially, it’s a big and necessary middle finger to Michael Bay-type movies, the world of celebrities, social media, the audience, and actors in general; however, it flips the bird in a hilarious manner and in the vein of tough love. I would say that this is Oscar-worthy, and it definitely is, but it’s truly beyond that. Is it Louie? Is it the Wrestler? No, it’s Birdman!