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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Birdman | Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Amy Ryan, Andrea Riseborough, Lindsay Duncan, Naomi Watts | Review

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3sm The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE Judy Thorburn

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3lg The Flick Chicks movie rating for this film is MEDIOCRE

 

Birdman

Michael Keaton, whose career has taken a dive in recent years, makes a triumphant return to the screen delivering a tour de force performance as the star of Birdman. Many will see this as a case of art imitating life, since there are glaring similarities between Keaton's professional career and that of his fictional screen character.

Keaton plays, Riggan Thomson, a washed up Hollywood actor, that gained fame in movies as the flying superhero Birdman in a series of films more than 20 years ago, but whose career plummeted after he refused to costume up for the fourth installment. In a desperate attempt to ignite his career and redeem himself artistically and wanting to feel relevant again and not just an answer to a trivial pursuit question, Riggin has written a dramatic play, adapted from a Raymond Carver short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" that he also directs and star in.

Mounting a Broadway production proves to be a difficult task for Riggan as he finds himself dealing with an onslaught of personal and professional crises that threaten his plans.

Keaton is joined by a powerful supporting cast, each excellent in their respective roles.  Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan's daughter and assistant that just got out of rehab and has issues with her former absentee father.  Zach Galifianakis, like we have never seen him, is cast against type as Riggan's stressed out manager/lawyer Zach.  Andrea Riseborough is Laura, Riggin's lover and co-star. Naomi Watts plays Lesley, an insecure actress making her Broadway debut as Riggan's stage wife. Amy Ryan shows up on occasion as Sylvia, Riggan's supportive ex-wife with whom he still has a strong emotional connection, and Edward Norton plays Mike Shiner a temperamental, egocentric, on the edge, veteran stage actor in a relationship with Lesley, who brings him in to replace an actor that was severely injured during rehearsals.

Everyone has issues, but none more than Riggan who teeters on insanity that is marked by delusions including fantasizing about having telekinetic powers, being able to float in the air, hearing his alter ego Birdman talking to him in his head and having hallucinations of flying high above the city streets like his superhero character did on screen.

Adding to Riggan's struggles is Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) a powerful theatre critic, who hasn't yet seen the play but is determined to 'kill it”  because she despises the film actor, thinking he is spoiled and untrained and has no right being on the serious Broadway stage. Adding insult to injury, during a heated confrontation with him, she tells him he is not an actor, but a celebrity, “a Hollywood clown in a lycra birdsuit”.

Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu (BABEL, 21 GRAMS) who also co-wrote the screenplay with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, uses cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's ("Gravity") camera in what seems to be one continuous shot that follows the action through dressing rooms, down narrow hallways, backstage at New York's St James Theatre and occasionally outdoors.

In his film that is billed as a dark comedy (although, I don't see what is supposed to be funny) Iñárritu makes an ambitious attempt to examine the relationship between celebrity versus art, Hollywood versus the Broadway stage, adoration versus artistic recognition. I get that the filmmaker makes some valuable statements, but it all comes off as a bit too pretentious and hip for its own good. It doesn't help that the story is marred by persistent, loud jazz drumming that is nothing but an annoying, overbearing distraction.

Truth be told, the main reason to see this film is for Keaton's terrific performance that, will no doubt, earn him an Oscar nomination. I also expect there will be other nominations, especially in the supporting actor category, most notably for Edward Norton's spectacular work in which he literally goes head to head with Keaton.

Like his character, Keaton needed the right project to come his way that would show off his acting chops and reestablish himself in the business. Birdman fills the bill with the 63 year old actor bringing his comic edginess to that of an angst  ridden, damaged soul looking for a way to validate his existence.  While his Birdman character needs to be kept grounded, it is Keaton's brilliant, fearless acting that truly soars. That's the the kind of amazing comeback that should reap the actor many rewards.

 

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