Big Screen :: Birdman

January 16th 2015


Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a movie I thought was great, yet somehow irritating at the same time. It’s a bizarre response and I’m trying to understand it.

It’s the story of a guy famous for playing a superhero trying to reclaim his reputation and self-respect by staging super serious adaptation of a Raymond Carver novel on Broadway, whilst having some sort of psychotic episode. Michael Keaton plays the role, intentionally mirroring his own career. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are part of the play’s cast, and Zach Galifianakis and Emma Stone are behind the scenes.

You might have heard that, although there are hidden edits all the way through, the movie is presented as though it is one continuous, unbroken shot. It’s mostly scored by Antonio Sanchez with improvised jazz percussion. This makes the movie feel totally unique and really quite amazing, at least at the start. After two hours, though, I was kind of annoyed by it.

Here’s the thing: I feel like you could cut a couple of characters and about 30 minutes out of this movie and it would be a masterpiece, but as it is it just feels way too long.

The look and the feel of it scream for brevity, yet the movie just keeps on going long after I got the point.

It’s a very different kind of film for director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. He previously made medicine movies like Ammos Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. Capital “I” Important films, with big casts and fractured narratives. I slogged my way through them dutifully, admiring them but honestly not really enjoying myself, and then happily never watched them again.

_nortonfight birdman

Birdman is nothing like his previous films. It’s sequential for a start, but it’s also bouncy and light and fun. Its self-awareness goes beyond the casting of Michael Keaton. Edward Norton’s ego-soaked prima donna is playing with people’s perceptions of him as an actor as well. He was the funniest thing in the movie, actually – but he disappears for most of the climax, which is another reason it just seems to fade away.

The film mercilessly takes the piss out of superhero movies and apocalypse porn, but it’s also taking the piss out of this play as well, which is I guess is standing in for the ego stroking Oscar-bait movies that show up at this time of year…

You should definitely watch Birdman. It’s fascinating, unique and technically astonishing. It’s funny, though – even though it couldn’t be more different that Iñárritu’s other movies, I kind of feel the same way about it: I respected it more than I enjoyed it.


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