First things first, I need to admit that before this weekend, the only film I’d ever seen Michael Keaton in was Beetlejuice. That admittedly/ashamedly impacts my viewing of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) since it tells the story of an actor, famous for playing a beloved superhero, trying to make a comeback– to anyone who knows Keaton’s work as Batman, this is much more compelling. That being said, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman is immediately gripping, and doesn’t let go. Riggan, played by Keaton, is a few preview shows away from his Broadway debut– an adaptation of a play he has to decided to star in, produce, and direct. Things aren’t going well. As he tries to ignore the voice (of Birdman, who sounds like Christian Bale’s Batman) in his head and be a present father to troubled daughter Sam (Emma Stone), each preview seems worst than the last. Will the show, and Riggan, be a hit? More importantly, will the show, and Riggan, be able to shake off the pressure and image that is Birdman?
Birdman is a blast to watch, for a variety of reasons. The cast is on point, with every role performed with a seeming ease– there’s a reason this film has three Academy Award acting nominations to its name. Better yet, each character is not only well acted, but fleshed out. Each person, from the play’s cast (Keaton with Naomi Watts, Edward Norton, and Andrea Riseborough) to Sam and her mother (Amy Ryan) and Riggan’s assistant (Zach Galifianakis), has a story to tell, and we as an audience are fortunate to hear so much more than many movies allow of an entire cast. The script is rich with dialogue that makes one laugh, wince, question, and think– it is a film built to tear so much down, and the demolition is a beautiful mess to watch.
While the script certainly keeps the film’s tempo quick, the drum score is a treat I found myself missing when it wasn’t used in a scene, but what ultimately gives Birdman its rush is the illusion that the film is one continuous take— it never stops moving. At times, this filming technique is disorienting, but it emulates the vibes of a production hitting the fan, and makes a person feel so involved in the story. It is thrilling to watch, and many argue they haven’t seen anything like it– well, they haven’t seen one of my favorite films of all time. In 1948, Alfred Hitchcock premiered quite the leap of faith– it was his first color film, first comedy (though, naturally, dark), and he wanted to make it feel like, you guessed it, one continuous take. His cuts in Rope are much like those in Birdman, subtle, meditated, producing a frantic feeling. Granted, Birdman‘s pace is much faster, and is a far prettier film, so I am not trying to take away its cool factor. Just know that I left Birdman simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated and craving Rope.
I thought the film had ended 20 minutes before it did, so while I may have been distracted thinking of “my ending,” the last 20 are satisfying, and I was sad to leave my seat. See Birdman before the Academy Awards if you can. Anyone who has is bound to be excited, and/or devastated, by the winners announced, since Birdman is up for nine, and may be worthy of them all.