Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

birdman-poster

Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianikis, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Edward Norton

Riggan Thompson (Keaton) is an aging Hollywood star who longs to be taken seriously as an actor, but is instead remembered for his role in the Birdman series of superhero movies. He is seeking to put on his own theatrical adaptation of Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’, while the voice of the character Birdman speaks to him and he believes that he is developing powers of levitation and telekinesis.

When one of his co-stars is injured in an accident, Thompson jumps at the chance to bring in stage star Mike Shiner (Norton) to join Riggan, his girlfriend Laura (Riseborough) and aspiring star Lesley (Watts), who is Shiner’s girlfriend. The play is being produced by Riggan’s best mate Jake (Galifianikis) and Riggan’s recovering addict daughter Sam (Stone) is his assistant.

The film follows the production of the play through the previews and opening night. Riggan struggles to control Shiner, an erratic genius who insists on drinking whatever his character is drinking and tries to rape Lesley during a sex scene for added realism. Laura gets a false positive on a pregnancy test, Riggan gets locked outside the stage door and has to walk to the front door in his underwear to make the final scene and critic Tabitha Dickson (Lindsay Duncan) threatens to bury the play regardless of its quality, simply to punish a mere celebrity for aspiring to theatrical acting.

As the stress mounts, Riggan’s hallucinations become more elaborate. Birdman appears and tries to convince him to go back to the ultraviolent action blockbusters. As the opening night begins and some clarity returns, Riggan swaps his prop pistol for a real one and accidentally creates a hit, then leaps from his hospital window, either dying on the pavement or soaring into the sky.

What’s wrong with it?

Birdman is a film entirely populated by unloveable people. I guess that is the nature of satire, but it doesn’t make for a terribly interesting or sympathetic narrative.

It’s baffling as hell, and not always in a good way.

What’s right with it?

It is in many ways a remarkable piece of film making, full of gorgeous long takes and sweeping shots as Riggan imagines himself soaring over the city. Aside from a few orchestra themes, the entire score is played on a single drum set by Antonio Sanchez, who appears on screen during one of Riggan’s rambling walks through the backstage area.

How bad is it really?

Part man, part bird; all hallucination.
Part man, part bird; all hallucination.

It’s really, really clever and superbly made. In parts it’s funny and occasionally moving, but the latter is inhibited by the unlikableness of the characters.

Best bit (if such there is)?

After his extended hallucination of a Birdman action sequence, Riggan steps off a roof and soars though the streets to the theatre. He lands smoothly and walks inside, and then a cabbie runs after him, showing that it was after all just another hallucination.

What’s up with…?

  • Well… any of it really? As with many pieces of art that are largely about art, it’s pretty convoluted and frequently threatens to vanish up its own subtext.

Ratings

Production values – The film is brilliantly crafted, although at times its very brilliance leads to a kind of ahumanistic sterility that makes it difficult to really relate to. 2
Dialogue and performances – The dialogue is naturalistic, which is a fancy technical term for rambling and mumbled, but the sound quality is good enough to bring out a set of excellent, if eccentric performances. 5
Plot and execution – The plot is also naturalistic, in much the same sense. It’s both the point and, if you look for narrative and resolution in your entertainments, a weakness. 9
Randomness – There’s a stream of consciousness feel to the film, but it’s not quite randomness. There’s always purpose. 3
Waste of potential – It’s very good, but I didn’t enjoy it, and that was disappointing. On the upside, it’s not Sightseers, which is a film that is unlikely to be reviewed here as I’d need to watch it again. 7

Overall 26%

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