Movie Review: Birdman is weird and wonderful
Birdman is a rare beast. The new film by Alejandro González Iñárritu skirts the line between fantasy and reality with just the right touch of mysticism and grit.
This might push Nightcrawler out of the way as the best movie of 2014. Iñárritu, director of such movies as 21 Grams and Biutiful, knows how to find the right balance between farcical comedy and heartfelt drama without resorting to emotional vomit.
Whereas in The Judge, the tonal shifts felt forced, everything in Birdman works. It’s unpredictable, fun, touching, sometimes shocking.
Birdman tells the story of Riggan, a washed-up celebrity famous for playing a costumed hero (Michael Keaton, in a bit of meta-casting here) who wants to go legit as a Broadway actor. The movie focuses on the rehearsal of the play and the backstage drama that accompanies it.
The film also feels like a play; the camera follows actors as they walk between rooms, and most of the scenes are uninterrupted takes that seem live and half-improvised. The whole movie takes place in a dozen or so shots, which is quite technically impressive.
It’s also one of the most clever screenplays I’ve encountered in quite a while. Full of snappy one-liners like, “popularity is prestige’s slutty little cousin.” And that’s what the movie is about: the argument between popularity and prestige, the difference between legitimacy and admiration. Riggan butts heads with an important theater critic, and she tells him, “You’re not an actor. You’re a celebrity.”
Zach Galifianakis shows up in a mostly non-comedic role, which he seems to pull off adequately. He’s no acting heavyweight, but it just proves how capable Iñárritu is behind the camera to get all the right performances from his actors. Ed Norton, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts make appearances, and al lhave ample screen time to chew the scenery.
Keaton is even perfectly cast here. He plays Riggan with a hint of irony, that man who used to be something special and is now reduced to one last chance at worthiness. The whole movie feels meta and drenched in irony. When it slips into fantasy, such as a scene where Riggan flies through New York to get to his show on time, we don’t bat an eye or lose the suspension of disbelief. It’s supposed to be half-unbelievable.
But I believed every minute of it.
My rating: 10/10. A must see.