Wednesday, 14 January 2015


20th Century Fox Films

After films like the Oscar-nominated Babel (2006), and the Spanish-language Biutiful (2010), featuring an Oscar-nominated turn by Javier Bardem, it wouldn't be surprising if more than one person -- friend, colleague, critic -- suggested that Mexican writer-director Alejandro G. (formerly Gonzalez) Inarritu 'lighten up'. The good news for those who didn't enjoy his previous 'misery porn' is that he has. Kind of.

Birdman, Inarritu's first film since 2010, is a comedy albeit a dark one. If cynicism were a font, you can be sure that Inarritu used it during the writing process, in bold and the occasional all caps.

Set in the backstage world of a New York theatre, Birdman is a tale of the actor's lot. That actor is Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), one-time Hollywood superhero (the eponymous Birdman) who now, on the wrong side of 40 and fame, finds himself searching for relevance in both his profession (he's mounting an adaptation of a Raymond Carver book for his Broadway debut) and his personal life.

Off-stage, Riggan's life is complicated by an assortment of people: co-stars Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Mike (Ed Norton, in a scene-stealing tempest of a performance), the latter a method actor who comes in as a last-minute replacement but immediately sets about wreaking havoc on and off stage; another co-star, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), who is also Riggan's lover and may or may not be carrying his child; and a put-upon agent, Jake (Zach Galifianakis) who is equally as invested, emotionally and financially, in the production.

Then there's Sam (Emma Stone). Riggan's daughter from his failed marriage (Amy Ryan pops in and out), Sam is newly out of rehab and working as the actor's assistant, and whether flirting with Mike, possibly falling off the wagon, or calling dad out on his bullshit, she's a constant cause of consternation for the Hollywood has-been who is slowly but surely unraveling -- he's in on-going conversation with his Birdman alter-ego -- as opening night approaches.

Shot in a dizzying faux one-take by Emmanuel Lubezki (the cinematographer who won last year's Oscar for Gravity and does equally deserving work here), Birdman unfolds as both farce and stream of consciousness; Riggan's real and interior worlds coalescing and colliding as the cracks in his sanity give way under the mounting pressures and his existential crisis.

There's much fun to be had in Birdman, and even more so, one suspects, if you happen to be an actor or someone who is privy their world, their insecurities and vanities: the film is meta, playful, scathing and hyper-real.

Whether Inarritu is saying anything new or profound, however, is cause for debate (as is that ending), but for the most part Birdman flies -- and occasionally soars -- on its visual and verbal wings.

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