Skip to main content

Review: Birdman


Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) is in need of a hit. He turned down Birdman 4 years ago and now he is largely considered washed-up. Desperate for some sense of relevance in the decades since Birdman, and against the better judgment of his agent, Riggan mounts an adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. There is no sooner way back to prestige than by adapting, directing and starring in an acclaimed play.

Months into production and this grand comeback is already one foot into the grave. Riggan is dipping into his own funds to keep the show going and now one of the four leads is injured. A replacement arrives in the form of Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a thespian so method that he would make Kirk Lazarus blush if he were real. Shiner appears to be just what Riggan's production needs on paper, but even the most superficial Hollywood icon has nothing on a stage diva. Throw in a daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone) and Riggan's costumed past brought to life, and he is left scrambling to fix one disaster after another before the Saturday night premiere. If that weren't enough, lurking just around the corner is The New York Times critic who has the power to kill the play before it even starts with a scathing review.

A film depicting the inside baseball nature of fame can quickly get too meta for its own good, however it absolutely works here. The farce on display is enhanced by having Michael Keaton and Edward Norton play with their respective parodies of themselves. Batman lingers in Keaton's past, but Thompson's alter-ego hounds him every step of the way to remind him that his way back to the A-list is back in L.A. And Norton, who has a history of being difficult to work with steals several scenes as the consummate thespian.

Keaton also plays the monstrously uninhibited ego that is Birdman, growling that audiences "love action... not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit." The script written by Iñárritu and three others captures the anguish present in the souls of creatives, though mostly it lasers in on fame as a siren that calls to only the most needy and dysfunctional. It is a narrow tightrope walk of insanity, but Iñárritu and Keaton balance it well, creating a rabid, mescaline-tinged update of 8 1/2 for the 21st Century.

Birdman is undeniably an actor's showcase requiring actors to recite pages of dialogue at a time while hitting precisely choreographed marks, yet the real star might be the cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki. Lubezki's camera hovers and roams around the veins of the St. James Theatre assisted by editing and special effects to appear as a one-take that last nearly two hours. Sleight of hand this clever will get flak for being a gimmick, but it works because it mirrors Riggan's state of mind: Life is a performance and the camera is never not rolling. The drawback here is that the camera isn't always rolling on Riggan. Birdman succeeds when it lasers in on Riggan, but too many side-plots get in the way. Iñárritu wants the satire to stick, but when a film is stocked with this much farce, even Hollywood insiders could shrug off the crazed antics of Riggan's co-stars.

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, the man behind Babel, 21 Grams and Biutiful, has a track record for dealing in misery. Whereas those three films felt like slow asphyxiation, Birdman is aware of the insanity going on and responds with a wink and knowing laugh. The three leads of Keaton, Norton and Stone throw themselves headfirst into their parts and the comedy is considerably richer for it. Stone, in particular, is able to take a stock character like the rebellious daughter and round it out into something human. Fully expect to Academy to fall head over heels in love with Birdman. For his tour de force turn as Riggan Thompson Michael Keaton is now receiving high marks after coming back from relative hiatus. I am endlessly amused by life's ability to mimic fiction.

Popular posts from this blog

Paprika vs. Inception

Months before Inception hit the theaters forums were alive with rumors that Christopher Nolan either accidentally or intentionally stole some details from another film, the Japanese anime Paprika. The biggest point of comparison for some bloggers and forum runners was the fact that both of the films featured a device that allowed a person, or people, to travel into another’s dreams and delve into their subconscious.
Minor points of comparison include scenes in Paprika where the character Paprika breaks through a mirrored wall by holding her hand to it, as well as a scene where a police detective falls his way down a hallway. Claims have been made that Inception abounds with imagery similar to or exactly like the anime movie, but with the recent release of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray, and with Paprika available for several years now, an examination of the two plots can be made more fully.
Let us begin with the primary claim—Inception stole the idea of a dream machine from Paprika. It …

Herman Melville and Office Space

Just from gleaning the surface of Office Space one would assume that there isn't anything simmering below the surface except for a raunchy work-comedy, but they would be wrong.
After the harsh critical reception of his greatest work Moby Dick Melville wrote a collection of short stories called Bartleby and Benito Cereno perhaps the greatest slam at the time against industrial America. Bartleby is the story of a Wall Street copyist who has his three employees proof-read and copy law forms. Shortly into the story Bartleby starts responding to work commands with, "I would prefer not to." Frustrated by his employee's subordination the Narrator tries to have him fired but Bartleby refuses to leave the office. The Narrator comes back the following morning to find Bartleby living inside his office. Bartleby becomes increasingly less apt to perform basic functions as eating after he is jailed for trespassing and dies in a jail cell. What at once starts out as a comedy has …

Blumhouse's Truth or Dare Giveaway

We’re not playing the game, it’s playing us! A harmless game of "Truth or Dare" among friends turns deadly when someone--or something--begins to punish those who tell a lie--or refuse the dare. Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare, opening in theaters Friday the 13th! To celebrate the release of this terrifying new film we have a Truth or Dare giveaway for readers. Play the app below with a friend and take the Truth or Dare challenge to see who survives. To enter, tag a friend you'd bring along to the film to @wordsbycbiggs on Twitter and use the #TruthOrDareMovie hashtag. One lucky winner will receive a prize pack, which includes: 1 - Limited Edition Truth or Dare Card Game: This limited edition Truth or Dare Game is only available via this promotion and has a run of 200 pieces worldwide. It has a card deck featuring dares and the creepy crawly items you need to satisfy the dares in the deck. Test your resolve… The truth will set you free! 1 - Truth or Dare Official Promo Tank - O…