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Birdman Review: Don't Listen to the Hype

Michael Keaton's Birdman is one part bore-fest and two parts "Why did I agree to see this?"

Warning: This review contains MAJOR SPOILERS.
In Birdman, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor who once played a flying comic book hero named Birdman, but whose recent exploits have landed him on Broadway. Riggan is also trying to ignore the character bulls eye that once garnered him millions but left him emotionally empty; now, he's funding his own production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and desperate to be taken seriously. His cast includes the one seeking similar Hollywood cred (Naomi Watts) and his on-again/off-again fuckbuddy (Andrea Riseborough). But when the show loses one of its actors, his pretentious replacement (Edward Norton) starts to undo Riggan's comeback, leaving his post-rehab daughter (Emma Stone) to question his intentions and sanity, while his lawyer (Zach Galifianakis) tries to keep the lights on. As he enters the final preview night, Riggan's future hangs in the balance as his doppelganger begins to speak to him, seeking to undo his already fragile psyche.

Tonally all over the place, Birdman is one of those films that only true independent moviegoers will appreciate. Its experimental style feels like an inside joke about theater, actors, and the whole Hollywood structure, while going absolutely nowhere story-wise. Birdman will make you feel like a fourth wheel, the other three being Birdman, Itself, and Them. There are serious continuity issues throughout, such as the 'quiet moments of reflection' between Stone and Norton high above the street of competing shows. They're enjoyable together, but what they're saying to each other feels not at all connected to the larger story. The same goes for Norton himself, who disappears during the third act, while Keaton waxes poetic about his failed life. Keaton - who is clearly the best of the ensemble cast which Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has assembled - carries this film with a mixture of poise and psychosis that must haunt most Hollywood actors who struggle to remain relevant after hitting it big. To Riggan, he can feel Father Time and Doctor Regret on his back, reminding him of the mistakes of his past, with Keaton channeling his best Rebecca de Mornay from Dinner for Five.

But even Birdman can't keep this wreck of a performance piece from crashing to ground, as González Iñárritu seems to change the rules of this universe whenever the moment requires it. First we think Riggan is going insane as he's seemingly able to 'Jedi' items across the room, then spreads his wings near film's end to fly gracefully over New York without anyone recognizing him, and once again confined to Earth once more once he gets locked out of the theater. When his daughter thinks he's committed suicide during the final scene, we see her suddenly realize that he can in fact fly, something two minutes before he seemed incapable of doing. The one thing that's even worth mentioning is Gravity Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki's fluid filming that wants desperately to be Hitchcock. In the end, those transitions worked really well for Gravity because the tension was supposed to be in real time. Here, it just gets in the way because it's spread out over three days.

Filled with an ensemble cast who barely registers a blip (Riseborough and Watts are merely deadweight here), Birdman rockets between terse Hollywood commentary, the highs of empty zany comedy, and the depressive melancholy after a night of hard partying. This isn't Scarlet Johansson's Her by a long shot; but with critics trying to elevate this one to similar starry heights, don't listen to the hype. Birdman isn't worth your time under any circumstances, drunk, stoned, or merely curious.

Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence and has a runtime of 119 minutes.


Aaron Jones said…
Matt, I must say that I strongly disagree with you encouraging people not to see Birdman. I understand your criticisms, though I think some of them don't have a solid foundation and come from a mis-interpretation of events within the film and maybe even the filmmakers' intentions.

I support, am a recipient of, and am glad for the work you and SandwichJohn Films has done, but I think you have unfairly shat upon this movie, and again, I am disappointed at your encouragement that people should not see this movie. Yes, this is not some people's cup of tea, and you should acknowledge that, but a blanket condemnation of the film and an encouragement not to see it is beyond the pale. Thanks.
Matt Cummings said…
Hey Aaron - thanks for you comments. I appreciate you reaching out to the site. I think my review speaks for itself, but you are more than welcome to give your input. Thank you very much for your continued support of the site!

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