Movies: Birdman

This felt less like a movie and more like an argument—or maybe a debate that no one wins. And I say this in the best possible way. Because so many movies these days are brain candy, requiring no thought or work from the audience. Things explode, and it's one action sequence after another. But Birdman skewers those superhero movies just a bit while simultaneously taking on the subject of "celebrity" versus "actor" and what it means to be "legitimate" or "authentic."

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, once an action-movie star known for the Birdman franchise, now trying to do serious work by adapting a Raymond Carver story for the stage, directing it, and acting in it. He's put everything he has into this version of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, to the point that he's broke. His daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering drug addict working as his assistant. He's dabbling with one of the female actresses. He's staring down a lawsuit from an injured actor. And he's having to deal with the uppity Mike, the injured actor's replacement.

On top of all this, Riggan hears a voice (just the one) that reminds him of what a great star he once was and how much better he is than everybody else. He also believes he can make things move with his mind, and at times that he can actually fly. So maybe one of the topics under discussion in Birdman is the celebrity ego and how the Hollywood system encourages delusions of grandeur.

I'm generally a big fan of a movie that promotes discussion. And I mean beyond the holes in the plot (which is generally the extent of discussions about superhero movies); I prefer real conversation, the kind of things you can actually spend an evening around a table at a bar talking about. In certain circles, Birdman fits this bill. I mean, I can't envision just anyone wanting to argue the differences in perceptions of class and legitimacy between mega movie stars and Broadway actors, and what the tide of movie stars on Broadway has done to muddle things, but it's the kind of thing I and my friends would probably discuss. (Then again, I work with film and theatre people, and there's nothing any of us like more than to talk about what we do and how important it is or isn't. That's probably why Birdman has done so well in terms of awards—we love movies that elevate what we do and legitimize it as art.)

All that aside, Birdman deserves the praise it's received. It's a beautifully shot movie, too, just very well made. It's been a long time since I've sat through a movie and felt blown away by it in the sense of just having great admiration for what I'm seeing while at the same time being wholly entertained. But Birdman was marvelous on every level.

No comments: