Soaring its way to Oscar success this year Birdman is without question a masterpiece in almost every way imaginable. We’ve come to expect a certain level of dazzling drama from co-writer and director Alejandro González Iñárritu, what with 21 Grams and Biutiful, but what he achieves with Birdman is on another level; a comedic, tragic, character dissecting level so wonderfully immersive you’ll feel like you’re front and centre of this bizarre whirlwind of theatrical brilliance.
It’s easy to look at Birdman, or as it’s also known The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, as a satirical examination of Hollywood and actors through a whole life-imitating-art-imitating-life but it also represents a darkly black comedy about life, and everything that entails. Because while former superhero actor Riggan, played by former Batman actor Michael Keaton, is giving his otherwise deflated ego a jolly good flex it’s hard to do anything but love him. Warts and all.
“This is about being respected and validated” or at least that is Riggan’s manager’s, played with a camp verve by Zach Galifianakis, theory on it all. That in some way or another we’re all looking for, or at least hoping for, a little respect and validation. But by accentuating it through the eyes of a formerly famous actor desperately trying to claw himself some kind of artistic integrity he’s only digging himself into a deeper hole of self-loathing.
Iñárritu doesn’t just take us into Riggan’s world, he takes us into his head, sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically but it’s about as complete a visitation right into a mind as cinema is capable without injecting probes into your noggin. Twisting and turning and throwing us through the theatre, where Riggan is putting on his vanity project of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, it’s a backstage look into a production, a man and his relationship with everyone from his family, fans co-stars and most importantly himself.
“You are doing this to try and feel relevant again”, in case you hadn’t realised from this review Birdman is endlessly quotable, it’s also endlessly honest. Because we’re not important, none of us are. Just motes of dust floating in and out of a spotlight, albeit cinematographer Emmanuel Luezki’s gorgeously brilliant spotlight, that has no interest in shining on us but through us. We’re all Riggan, and his intense co-star Mike Sheen, played with a damaged, glib, arrogance masking deeper insecurities by Edward Norton, all desperately looking for people to notice us.
All these characters are crying out for attention, even Riggan’s messed-up daughter come assistant played by Emma Stone. It’s a powerfully angry yet damaged performance, Stone finding ways to make you fall hopelessly in love with her as she tries to win a battle of wills with all the egos on display. Meanwhile the former superhero actor perhaps not clawing but slowly raising his head back into the limelight is Keaton. His performance is all encompassing, powerful, stilted, jittery and always on the verge of either a breakdown or a ferocious explosion of arrogance. It takes an actor of high caliber to play a character as self-involved as Riggan and yet still somehow make him likeable, even loveable, in his own consuming way.
All the world’s a stage, and Birdman is raising the curtain to rapturous applause.
Birdman is out on Blu-ray and DVD 4th May