The formerly high-flying movie star Riggan Thomson (played marvellously by Michael Keaton) has tough days ahead of him. A play, which was supposed to help him get back on top, consumes money, the actor who plays one of the main roles goes to hospital after being hit by a falling stage light and an actress (Andrea Risenborough), who occasionally sleeps with Riggan, worries about her late period. The relationship with his daughter (Emma Stone), a recovering drug addict, is disastrous and if that wasn’t enough, hired at the last minute is the critics’ favourite Mike Shiner (the superb Edward Norton) who drinks a real Bourbon whiskey on stage and gets an erection in the middle of a performance. What irritates Riggan the most is that Mike is a talented artist. Additionally, he begins to hear voices, particularly one voice- Birdman the superhero, whose portrayal in the past brought Riggan glory. Unfortunately, everything indicates that Broadway is not ready to accept Thomson with open arms.
If you thought that the advertised Birdman poster depicting Michael Keaton and the winged creature sitting on his head was strange, you ought to be prepared for the movie itself. The first sequence of the film sees a levitating Michael in white underwear complaining about the place he is in and that it smells like balls. After a while you will see dancing reindeer and various other unexplained situations. Birdman is like a jazz improvisation, but with nonstop action. The pace of the film doesn’t stop even for a second and Riggan ‘makes’ his journey to the rhythm of Mexican musician Antonio Sanchez’s drums. Long shots with an uncluttered assembly of cuts are reminiscent of Scorsese’s Goodfellas. From the beginning, Alejandro González Iñárritu was very keen on this sort of film format: “our life is ultimately one big continuous shot. We wake up in the morning and we can’t escape, we don’t move to another reality. We are trapped in our own. That’s how we experience life and that’s how I wanted the audience to experience Riggan’s one”.
The film is based on Raymond Carver’s 1981 short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and it is brilliantly done. Carver’s poem, which opens the film, provides an excellent summary of the characters’ situation – no one is happy with what they have, and, above all, everyone desires glory. Theatre performers envy actors their fame and actors are jealous of theatre prestige. It seems like the delicate Amy Ryan, who plays Thomson’s ex wife, is the only grounded person in the film. Keaton, still best known as Batman, is very courageous in the role of Riggan with his tired eyes, scruffy facial hair and somewhat neglected body. Unfortunately, only the inherent Birdman’s voice recalls Riggan’s glamorous past of him portraying the superhero. Norton, who has come with the baggage of being difficult and demanding over the years, finds just the right balance between arrogance and sincerity in Mike Shiner’s character.
Iñárritu wasn’t afraid to expose many people in the film, he made fun of social media, journalists, whoever cited Barthes and even asked about face-lifting using piglets’ sperm. He mocked actors without any remorse: “This clown has half of your talent, and earns a fortune in his tin lumberjack costume”- growls Birdman’s as he watches Robert Downey Jr on the TV. The director has already show that he is able to construct a complex film world, here, however, he outdid himself. He created a great microcosm in the mind of one character. Iñárritu said that the film terrified him and that making Birdman was a whole new experience for him. For the first time he didn’t feel confident about a project he was working on. Although it is not a masterpiece like Amores Perros, Birdman is tangible proof that sometimes it is worth facing your fears. The film is alive in every frame and you will simply love it.
Written by Maggie Gogler.
Edited by Roxy Simons.