Take a Drink: each time a fan recognizes Riggan (Michael Keaton)
Take a Drink: each time “Birdman” makes an appearance (either in voice, person, or image)
Drink a Shot: every time something goes wrong on stage
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (A Toast) –
Several days until the big premiere of a play Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) adapted, directed, and is starring in, he is facing just about every problem possible. Twenty years ago Thomson left fame and fortune behind by refusing to appear in the 4th installment of a major superhero franchise. Critics have savaged Thomson in advance of the play, alleging that he is trying to prove he’s still relevant. Between combating actors, financial issues, bad publicity, and family problems, Riggan Thomson is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Without a doubt the strangest film of 2014; Birdman is an exploration of the creative drive of an artist, wrapped in metaphor and garnished with a side of satire. Perhaps most impressive, however, is the way Birdman is shot to appear as if the majority of the film takes place in a single unbroken sequence. While in reality the editing conceals a handful of clever cuts, the effect of this style is to mimic the style of live theater.
Writer/Director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is a pure visual feast. The veteran indie filmmaker brings a hallucinatory style to the film which builds on his previous efforts, but adds a distinct new layer of originality. Everything in Birdman moves with the ebb and flow of Riggan’s mind, producing a dreamlike atmosphere. This stream of consciousness pours out of the screen and into the minds of every audience member, who experience the film as if a fly on the wall. This isn’t to say the film has a documentary-like feel; it is something entirely unique.
The greatest risk of the film is its reliance on performers. The long takes in which the film was shot depend on a high degree of precision without giving away the process. Michael Keaton hasn’t had a lead role in a film in five years, and the risk of putting the film’s artistic weight on his shoulders seems strangely brilliant. Keaton himself once left behind a major comic book franchise (Batman) and faced his own struggles finding a creative direction afterwards.
While Keaton managed the jump quite admirably, Riggan could be considered a possible alternate path that Keaton might have ended up on, if a few decisions hadn’t worked out in his favor. Keaton carries this enormous burden like a true master, disproving any detractors from the moment of his opening monologue.
The supporting cast is equally up to the task, with Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter, a recovering drug addict; Edward Norton as Mike Shiner, a highly respected stage actor who is ironically unable to function off stage (in more ways than one); and Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s embattled lawyer and best friend. Galifianakis is particularly noteworthy in that his character is a straight-man to the madness of the film, a role that is rare for the veteran comic. This is a performer’s piece, and if the cast was anything short of spectacular, it would have killed the film’s momentum.
The result of all this is a movie about a typecast performer coming to terms with himself. He might not be Birdman anymore, but he can still use his powers for greatness.
Birdman is part satire, part superhero movie, part David Lynchian mind-bender. Moreover; it is one of the year’s best films.