Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a fine cinematic offering released in 2014 from director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, also the director of Gravity and The Revenant. Birdman is a tale of one man’s attempt to create something he believes will have a lasting impact on the world.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) has had a career in filmmaking, most notably as the superhero Birdman. He writes a play based on a short story by esteemed author Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The play is in rehearsals with opening night on Broadway fast approaching when we meet Riggan struggling to both direct and star in his play.
Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter, works for him as a sort of gofer running errands, and she is one angry young lady fresh out of rehab. His ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) comes for a visit, and further complicating his life, his three fellow actors are all neurotic and self-absorbed: Mike (Edward Norton) is a handful of ego driven charisma, who harasses his former lover Lesley (Naomi Watts) on stage and off, and Riggan’s much younger lover Laura (Andrea Riseborough) is jealous and insecure. His manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis) tries to keep things steady for Riggan, but chaos tends to follow him everywhere.
The story works well, alternating between Riggan’s direction of the play and his inner musings, or rather possession, by his alter ego Birdman. The story effectively ridicules the super hero genre, and the movie-going public’s questionable intelligence in gravitating towards those types of films.
Broadway is painted to be an ego filled place, from the critics who can make or break an opening, to the actors who constantly wonder if they are good enough for the stage. The film is confined mostly to the theater, the back stage behind the scenes workings of the production, and to the actors’ dressing rooms that serve as sanctuary and a place to vent their angst. The camera often follows the actor down hallways and through the depths of the theater in one smooth take, serving to unite the action with the character’s internal progression as the tension builds and Riggan reaches the point of breaking.
I really enjoyed this film. I saw it in the theater when it first came out, and liked it on DVD again. All the acting is superb, especially Edward Norton as the self-confident actor whose inner core is not so strong when he’s not on stage. He and Michael Keaton have some really intense scenes together, very well played by both.
Inarritu has proven himself to be an excellent screenwriter and director. Birdman walked away with four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki.
I recommend Birdman for anyone interested in the theater, as well as the psychology of the inner creative self. The film is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence. It is not a film for children.