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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Birdman (Reviewed by Ben)

You may have noticed that most of the films we talk about on this blog are pictures we enjoyed, that is to say “we recommend this film to you.” This one will be a little different. Last week, we watched Birdman, nominee of eight oscars and a winner of four. We finished with a pretty similar consensus: Birdman was junk.

The film is the pretentious story of the pretentious, unlikable Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a superhero action star of the past now trying to make a name for himself in a (you guessed it) pretentious Broadway play. The drama he generates with his fellow actors, family and theatre technicians is the focus of the film. 

Riggan’s constant search for recognition as a true dramatic star is countered by the voice of Birdman (his original superhero persona) in his head, telling him to forget the stage and do “Birdman 4” instead. The supporting characters are slightly more interesting than Keaton, like esteemed star Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who Riggan miraculously gets to join his play, his rehabilitated daughter (Emma Stone), and his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough). As Riggan spirals into madness, the film gets more and more abstract, until you finally give up on trying to understand what each moment means. It might sound subtle and brilliant. It is not. 

For a movie I dislike, this 2014 film did have some great elements. One of those is the directorial style of Alejandro G. Innaritu which makes the whole films look like one continuous shot which, in a better written story, could have kept the viewer engaged. But the movie’s script failed to bring the audience on an engaging journey, instead dragging us through melodrama that amounted to not that much. The acting is actually great on the part of Norton, Stone, Naomi Watts and Keaton in a couple of less-overacted scenes, but Suicide Squad reminds us that good actors does not a great movie make. The beauty of the shots and acting did not save this movie from being a slog, but also did not prevent it from securing a place at the Oscars. 

Despite all this criticism, the movie did have one standout scene that remains with me in which Riggan’s sub-conscious goes berserk and he imagines himself as Birdman, flying through the city, the superhero he once was. It was the one “deep” moment that really made me think, but I’ll let you decide what it means.

All in all, not a movie for kids. Brief drugs, swearing, sex and enough references and bad examples to keep fans of Superbad, The Wolf of Wall Street and the first two season of South Park happy. Not fun for the kids and, to be frank, probably not fun for the adults.

Dad replies: I probably disliked the film a little less than Ben, although we agree on all of its shortcomings: a main character we failed to care about performing a play that looked like a bore to everyone in the film and real-world audiences.  The “theatre as redemption” theme has caused more than one film star to go off the rails (John Turturro in the 1998 Illuminata comes to mind).  And Birdman is one more data point that magic realism still hasn’t made a successful translation to the screen. Still, as a big Michael Keaton fan I was glad to see him get the recognition he deserved, even if he deserved it for different work.

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