Sunday, November 16, 2014
Movie Review: "Birdman" (2014) - Fame, Fortune and Poultry
Why do actors act? It is as common a question as asking why painters paint, or why boxers box. Why does anyone do anything?
Some actors do it because they love to act and very good at it. Others do merely for a paycheck, while even more do it for the passion of the art of acting and sharing their talent with the world, thus getting others inspired. But one reason actors do it that they won't tell you in interviews or books is quite simple: Becoming famous.
It is in our nature to make a name for ourselves. To make our existence matter and know that we've made a difference in the world. That difference could be anything, from political influence to scientific discovery to making everyone laugh to giving the greatest performance the world has ever seen.
Everyone wants to be famous.
But what people don't like to talk about is how fame is fleeting. There's a reason we use the phrase "fifteen minutes of fame." Because for most people, that's all you are ever going to get. People might talk about you for a time, but then they'll move on to the next big topic. You don't see anyone talking about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or the Harlem Shake anymore, because their time is up. They're not relevant anymore.
This is the tragedy of actors, in particular big name actors. For a brief period, those actors might be the talk of the town and a household name. But unless that actor consistently comes out with hit after hit, sooner or later, their fame will fade away and they will become nothing more than a star on a sidewalk and an answer to a Jeopardy question.
No actor is immune to this. It will even happen to Robert Downey Jr. and Neil Patrick Harris in time. Fame is not eternal.
This is what makes "Birdman" so powerful and has stuck with me even though I was sick during the movie and am still sick while I write this review. The film by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, is more of a tragedy on fame and shows a disturbing look at a man's slow decent into madness and insanity. Yet, with all that in mind, there is the right mix of comedy and quirkiness to keep the audience amused.
Riggin Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor, once famous for his role as the super hero Birdman, and intends to make a comeback in Broadway by writing, directing and starring in his new show. Though it seems like Riggin is flying by the seam of his pants, hiring his best friend (Zach Galifianakis) as his producer and attorney and his daughter (Emma Stone) as his assistant, he does end up landing big name Broadway star Michael Shine (Edward Norton) for the lead role. Now Riggin must balance the egos on the set and in his mind, or else risk his one chance to reclaim stardom to crumble before his eyes.
Michael Keaton was born to play this role. If this were any other actor, the film would fall apart. For a film that relies so heavily on an actor who was once a famous super hero in an age where super hero movies are huge, you must have someone who was in that position. It also helps because, outside of playing the lead roles in "Batman" and "Batman Returns," Keaton has not done many other big time acting jobs. A few minor parts in films like "Jackie Brown" and "Toy Story 3," but that's about it.
In a way, this film is just as much about Keaton as it is about Riggin. Art imitating life and vice versa.
Over the course of the film, Riggin loses his sanity, or what little he had to begin with. His actors think they can direct the play better than him, his daughter starts smoking pot again, his girlfriend thinking that she might be pregnant, the press is only interested if he'll make a fourth Birdman movie, and all while another voice in his head speaks to him about his sad pathetic existence.
Yet Riggin remains dedicated as ever to the play, based off of Raymond Carver's book "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." We're not entirely sure why he's going through with the play, because he gives multiple reasons, including money, another chance at fame, proving he can still act and just wanting to be relevant in a world that has past him by.
I'm reminded of Norma Desmond from "Sunset Boulevard," a once famous silent actress who hates what has become of cinema yet still wants to make a comeback for all of her fans. But the world has long forgotten her and she now lives in a dying mansion where the only fan letters she gets are from her butler.
There's a line in the film that talks about how Norma's attempt is like that of a parade queen atop her float waving to the crowd, only to find out that the crowd left thirty years ago.
It is that stain of insanity and madness that makes the Norma and Riggin tragic, but the dedication and need to be wanted in the world that gives them drive and reason to care about them.
What helps drive the point of crazy is the cinematography. Nearly every shot in "Birdman" is a long tracking shot, follow the action as it pans around the actors without cutting away to a new camera angle. This makes the camera and point of view frantic but still fluid, like this was all an insane dream by Riggin and we're just along for the ride.
If I had one complaint with "Birdman" it is that the film seems more like a bunch of little pieces and scenes and not one coherent movie. Each scene is great, but some scenes repeat many of the same points over again, while others tend to get sidetracked from the main point of the movie. For example, there's one scene where the two lead actresses share a tender moment about what it means to make it on Broadway, only to never bring it up again or go anywhere with it.
But then again, maybe that was what "Birdman" was going for. This does add more of a non-sensical feel to the film and adds to the dream aspect by making it so random and unpredictable.
Overall, "Birdman" is a strange, other-worldly look at a once famous actor trying to reclaim that fame. It has a unique visual style with how the camera moves and compliments the state of mind for our main character. The acting works exceptionally well and hits all the right notes.
In this day and age where super hero movies are the big money makers, it is nice to see a film like "Birdman" discuss how the success of those films can go to a man's head and what that fame really means to him.
Final Grade: A