BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) Directed by ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU, starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts.
Birdman, IÑÁRRITU’s black comedy, lives up to pre festival film buzz. Powerful, soul searching performances from the all star cast keep the emotional connection intense and immediate. Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), the protagonist is a washed up, older actor who once played a winged superhero called Birdman. Sounding familiar? Keaton certainly takes us on a wild ride with ‘Birdman’ palpably present right from the opening scenes. Michael Keaton is unquestionably the only actor who could have convincingly carried this role and director Alejandro IÑÁRRITU admits it. After all, who epitomized the masked crusader, placing Hollywood’s Batman on an international pedestal the way a younger Michael Keaton did with Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation of the Marvel classic. The big question: ‘Is Keaton portraying something imaginary or is this much closer to home?’ He emphatically denies that is the case.
Riggan has an accomplice – a voice in his head that is constantly telling him things that undermine reality and convince him that a much more grandiose existence was and could be his. This voice provokes him to do things that are quite mad and excessive. It drives him out of control like a drug addiction or alcoholism might. The play within a play is brilliantly executed. Keaton as Riggan plays an aging actor, attempting to confront his demons and resuscitate his identity as an someone of substance and significance in New York City. The New York Times critic scoffs at his ‘ignorance’ in assuming that because he was a Hollywood actor he can be a success on Broadway. She heartlessly promises to destroy him with a blistering review which she will write even without seeing the play. He knows the truth is she can. The audience and the critics are looked upon throughout the movie as organisms to be conditionally loved or hated.
Director ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU
New York City’s Broadway theatre scene is perfect for these larger than life real backstage dramas that delve into these universal and personal angsts. Keeping our ego, ‘Birdman’, in check is more difficult for some than others. IÑÁRRITU has ingeniously used Shakespearean theatre techniques to remind us of this. Each of IÑÁRRITU’s characters examines the question of their significance, and each is constantly trying to reaffirm the extent to which they are loved and if they are loved at all. Riggan’s daughter is played with total conviction by Emma Stone. She is a young woman who feels keenly the pain of an absent father who sacrificed family life for his ambitions. She has resorted to drugs to fill the void, finding some consolation and a means to forgive in a recent stint at rehab. Her mother (Amy Ryan) is estranged from Riggan although she is obviously still deeply connected to him and their daughter. In a poignant scene she discovers yet again what it is about his vulnerability that keeps her love for him alive.