Wow. I have to say that I was a little taken by surprise by how much this movie touched on the magnitude, potency, fallibility and tragedy of fame in such an interesting and compelling manner. I’m not going to say this movie was the most enjoyable for me this year, but it was certainly up there.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor most widely known for playing a superhero character, #Birdman, in a series of blockbuster movies a couple of decades previous. Now, at the twilight of his celebrity career, he’s trying to find a second life on stage in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” that he’s written and directed. While not a Broadway guy myself, my wife is. I was 39 minutes into the movie when I stopped it and told my wife she needed to watch this movie with me. For one, I thought she’d really appreciate the aspects regarding theater, and secondly this movie started off on a really deep level that I just needed to bounce this off of someone else other than that judgmental jerk in my head.
What I enjoyed was some of the “inside baseball” of the acting industry and the life and behind-the-scenes of a stage play. That is not my world, but I felt like I was getting an understanding of the dynamics that make or break a play. My wife, who’s a veteran of the stage and graduate of The Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts in Washington, DC, really felt like she was back at home experiencing the textures, nuances and imagery of life behind the curtain. She recalls the cramp, dark, energetic, crazy and rustic environment that encompasses theater life. This added a lot of credibility to the continuous flow of the cinematography in and out of the theater as I have an in-house expert.
The commentary that goes through Riggan’s head as he seems to slowly be delving into madness is a stark reminder of what it means to be an artist vs. a celebrity: The dichotomy of trying to create art while trying to also stay relevant in an “all about the newest thing” industry. This contradiction also plays out in the form of a veteran stage actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) as he’s brought in to play a principle actor. What price will you pay for your art? How much of your blood, sweat and soul can you muster up to be considered a “serious” actor? In the end, do you really get what you aim for when what matters most to you is so relegated by the whims and musings of the abstract and temporal audience and self-important critical reviewer machine?
Between trying to salvage what’s left of a relationship with his daughter, Samantha (Emma Stone) and not give his lawyer and best friend, Jake (Zach Galifianankis), a stroke, Riggan begins to consider what it means to be the brand “Riggin Thomson” vs the iconic Birdman and Riggin Thomson the actor trying to be accountable for who willingly sold his soul for fame and glory. At the end of the movie, this question sort of answers itself while posing other questions. Has Riggin totally gone over the deep end, or is this the one of the most subversive superhero movies ever to be shown on screen?
The parallels to Michael Keaton’s career are obvious as he’s well known for playing #Batman in the 1989 blockbuster and sequel. Also, his career hasn’t always been the steadiest with a few winners but mostly loser films over the last 25 years; “Beetlejuice” of course being one of his other more successful hits (with a sequel [believe it or not] in the early stages of production). This was a tongue-in-cheek nod to what we love about our favorite actors/characters but forget about when they’ve faded from the spotlight.
The wife and I had quite the conversation afterwards. I’m sure either you have or will too. In the end, my wife and I had differing opinions on this movie and its impact, but we agreed that the conversation was engaging. While again, not my favorite movie of 2014, it was a really good one that (had I watched The Oscars) maybe I would have agreed that winning Best Picture was appropriate – if even begrudgingly.