Tweetable Takeaway: Birdman is not only about finding meaning through art, however. It is a movie that discusses what it means to matter in life itself.
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
BIRDMAN finds Michael Keaton sending objects flying telepathically, running through Times Square wearing only underwear, and wrestling Ed Norton. If that description hasn’t sent you scrambling to the theater, I’m not sure what will. But I’ll try in the rest of my review, because Birdman is one of the year’s best movies.
Birdman follows the story of Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton), an actor famous for portraying superhero Birdman in three movies that grossed billions. Now Riggan is attempting to create something meaningful, something deeper than a movie filled with explosions and gravel-voiced masked men. And that something is a play on Broadway based on Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Only problem is the play appears to be cursed. A day before the preview one of the main actors is struck by a light, and they frantically bring in theater heavyweight Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), an intensely method actor who appears bent on derailing the production. Add in Riggan’s acid-tongued daughter, a fellow cast mate possibly carrying his baby, and a theater critic promising to give a bad review before even seeing the play, and you have yourself a venerable train wreck unfolding before the eyes. This is one wreck you can sign me up for any time.
The mind fairly reels as one places the context of the actors in the film alongside their characters they are playing. Keaton and his character Riggan both portrayed a superhero in a franchise they dropped out of. Riggan is haunted by Birdman far greater than Keaton ever had Batman hang around his neck, for Keaton had at least a couple more memorable film roles than Riggan.
The movie has a lot to say about the artistic merit of theater vs. film, of criticizing vs. creating, and trying to make one’s life mean something, but it remains wickedly entertaining throughout. The themes can be heavy-handed at times, but never unreasonably so, and all arise organically from the characters. Answers don’t come easy, if they come at all, the same as in real life. Riggan feels his life hasn’t amounted to much of anything, hence the play, yet as imaginary Birdman growls at Riggan inside mind, he did bring entertainment to millions, allowing them an escape from their doldrums. Who’s to say that isn’t a legacy in it’s own right? Is art that appeals to the masses automatically without merit? There are arguments on both sides in the movie and Riggan struggles to find the answer, just as the audience members do as well, if they’re of the more thoughtful nature.
The movie is shot to look as if it’s one long take and is a wonder to sit back and watch, not only for its technical prowess but that the actors give powerhouse performances without any cutting away. By keeping the movie as a series of long takes, we also feel as if we’re right there with the characters, traveling the labyrinthine backstage of the theater, room to room and conflict to conflict. It’s claustrophobic at times, but nobody is complaining since every character is compelling.
Birdman is not only about finding meaning through art, however. It is a movie that discusses what it means to matter in life itself. Watching Riggan struggle we can see ourselves, and wonder, when I am on my deathbed, can I say that I mattered? In a thousand years time, will any of our lives be remembered? The movie does concern itself with theater and film, but can be applied to life itself. The script provides plenty of morsels for one’s mind to chew on, is entertaining throughout, and has the best performances of the year in Michael Keaton and Ed Norton and the rest of the cast. Just make sure to plan plenty of time afterward to digest. I give it 5 pairs of tighty whities out of 5.
Score: 5 out of 5