Sunday, March 8, 2015

Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)
Comedy, Drama, 119 minutes
Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis 

Birdman won four Oscars from its nine nominations; best picture, director, original screenplay and cinematography. It also more than doubled its budget at the box office, so it's fair to say that Birdman was a success. That said, I don't think it will have massive appeal.

Why do I say that?

The film does not follow a conventional structure. I would imagine that most people will sit down to watch Birdman expecting to laugh every couple of minutes; after all, it is described as both a comedy and a drama, and Michael Keaton and Zach Galifianakis are involved. What we actually get is something quite unexpected. It feels like we are part of a play.

Iñárritu caught my attention with the way that he weaved together four threads in the excellent Babel, and used a similar structure in 21 Grams. Birdman is nothing like either of those films. Instead, it's shot like a documentary. He uses extreme closeups and we experience just about everything from the perspective of Riggan Thompson (Keaton). He plays an actor who was once famous for playing a superhero. That seems fitting considering Keaton's turn as Batman. Iñárritu is aware that superhero movies are popular, and that most people crave action and special effects over true art. Riggan expands on that idea by pouring everything he has (physically, mentally and financially) into a broadway play that writes, directs and stars in.

Emma Stone plays Riggan's daughter, Sam. She's a bit of a problem child, and that seems to fit Riggan's lifestyle, which is anything but trouble-free. The other actors in the play are Mike (Edward Norton) and Lesley (Naomi Watts), and they provide plenty of conflict both on and off the stage. To add to the overall feel that we are part of a play, Iñárritu uses a series of long takes. The result is almost a superior version of reality TV.

I often use the word 'interesting' as a throwaway word, but Birdman is genuinely interesting. It held my attention throughout and I wanted to know what would happen next. Keaton and Norton deserved their nominations, but there were definitely better performances in 2014. I like Keaton, and am glad that he got so much recognition, but in all honesty, I don't understand why Birdman won best picture. I enjoyed it, and I'll revisit it from time to time, but in my opinion it's not even Iñárritu's best film.

Overall score 3.75/5

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