Ahh, another case of a film impacting me so much that I want the entire world to see it, while still being cautiously hesitant to recommend it out of fear you will think I've wasted your time. What is this, Inside Llewyn Davis 2? ...No, it's Birdman!
Without giving too much away, Birdman tells the story of Riggan Thompson, who may or may not just be a spiritual vessel for Michael Keaton himself; a 90's action star who appeared in three very popular Birdman superhero movies. He quit the franchise long ago, and is now trying to make a comeback to relevancy in 2014 in the form of a Raymond Carver play, which he is funding, directing, and starring in. Everything else about the movie goes completely off the rails, but that's the basic plot. Expect a lot of nonsensical telekinetic powers and vivid hallucinations, though.
On a surprising technical level, the film takes place in (what is perceived to be) a single, flowing two-hour shot. Of course it isn't actually just one two-hour shot, and it kind of becomes entertaining in itself to try to locate the expertly placed cut points, but the entire movie is staged in one ever flowing brush stroke. I'd be very interested to know how many shots the film actually consisted of, and how long the longer takes were. Quite the marvel in scene blocking here. It has the feel of a Broadway play, but with some crazy as hell elements that make it so it could never actually be accomplished on Broadway. Plus, all the good cinematography and tracking shots make it more enjoyable that looking at something from one angle for two hours, so there's also that. EAT MY SHORTS, LIVE THEATER. [watches seven hours of sports bloopers on YouTube]
The acting is spot on from just about every person. Michael Keaton, who I kind of just enjoy watching do anything in general, ends up giving a pretty sensational, emotional performance, while still maintaining awesome comedic timing. He'll get plenty of awards praise for this role. So will Edward Norton, who may have had his best performance since the late 90s. He's a scene stealer. Naomi Watts makes up for her tacky Russian accent in St. Vincent with a genuinely good performance here. And the rest of the supporting cast delivers as well, from Zach Galifianakis to Emma Stone to Amy Ryan. And the acting goes even deeper than it seems, because a lot of the actors are playing characters who are actors, who they have to act as two different, layered people at any given time.
There are plenty of themes to be analyzed in Birdman (now I just feel like I'm writing a college paper), but I'd say it handles technology and social media 1000x better and more subtly than Men, Women & Children did. Instead of getting beaten over the head with it, Birdman touches upon modern-day relevancy in ways that actually assist and move the story along, without feeling like it's just shouting "TWITTER" and "YOUTUBE" like they're giving a grandma a lesson in Internet 101. I enjoyed how the film was smart enough to not dumb itself down for the sake of Billy Joe Bob Average Viewer's lack of perception, but at the same time almost anyone can probably enjoy the movie because it's entertaining enough on the surface level for a clydesdale to open-mouth gawk at it and still be impressed. I figure how you interpret Birdman varies from person to person, and it certainly doesn't give you all the answers. If you go into it hoping to come away with a definitive, satisfying answer to every question it asks, then you are doing yourself a disservice. Not every movie intends to do that, and you have to accept that. This ain't Madea Goes to Jail, buddy. It's an Alejandro González Iñárritu film.
The way I saw it, Birdman was about accepting who you are, and deciding whether it's worth it or not to change yourself simply for the sake of impressing other people. Do you want to be Birdman? Do you want to be something more than Birdman? Why wouldn't you just want to be Birdman? Birdman is better than regular man. Who cares about the people who wouldn't want you to be Birdman? What do they matter? There was a certain notion of trying to live up to some imaginary standard that kind of unexpectedly destroyed my psyche and gave me an existential crisis for a couple of hours after I saw the movie, and almost ruined my Halloween. Like, why do I do the things I do just because other people have grown accustomed to my personality? I should be above this, right?! (a couple of hours pass of me being a weird jerk to everyone around me) Ok, maybe I should just stick to the person that everyone already likes...? What's wrong with that anyway, really? Quit being a baby! You make people laugh, jerk. You should be thankful anyone finds you funny. Now quit sulking, grab your fart sound effect machine, and hit the town! [presses button 6] [basks in the glory of the elongated squeaker] THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT! [goes to the library] [knocks scientific journal out of nerd's hands] [runs through the streets hysterically laughing about a funny dog I saw the other day]
I don't think I've been randomly emotionally devastated by a film like I was here in a long time. And it's not even forced emotion, as Birdman is pretty much a comedy, so I had to *find* a reason to get distraught in the subtext of the film. I give this movie a million bonus points for doing that. I tried to find something wrong with it, to maybe give it something more of a critique, but all I came up with was that I wish it went on even longer. I love getting watery eyed at a movie to prove that I still have some manipulatable emotion left in the tank to exploit, but I'm just downright impressed when a film gives me a genuine identity meltdown. That hasn't happened since Legally Blonde 2. (don't ask)
10 out of 10
So, did Iñárritu put much magical realism in this? From the trailers, I'm guessing yes.
AS an aside, I can't remember the last time the weekend offered me at least four good/ interesting movies I was looking forward to seeing on a large screen. November has an embarrassment of riches in store.
[Scott Roberts] " It has the feel of a Broadway play, but with some crazy as hell elements that make it so it could never actually be accomplished on Broadway."
This is exactly what I said to myself (because I am the only one who listens to me) last night after I saw this. You know what else was super impressive about the scene blocking? The cinematography didn't otherwise seem to compromise itself for having a lot of movement. It was flipping beautiful.
The nuances of Michael Keaton's performance were shocking. He's the bomb.
[Scott Roberts] "I love getting watery eyed at a movie to prove that I still have some manipulatable emotion left in the tank to exploit,"
Interstellar was REALLY impacting, but ya know, it had all that music and space junk and tears going on. It did have major impact, but Birdman's impact was far more impressive because all that easily manipulative emotional junk wasn't there. It reached deeper.
But I'm also hesitant to recommend it. This checks a lot of boxes for me personally: great writing, more dialogue and less action, mental illness, camera trickery that actually lends itself to the narrative, Michael Keaton in his underwear. I loved it. Other people might not dig it like me. Which is a tragedy but I don't want to be responsible for that, man.
I want everyone to see it. Except no, don't listen to me. Go see it. Don't. Please. Okay.