If “Birdman” is the Batman of this alternate universe, does that mean somewhere there is an ill fated Birdman vs Powerman movie coming?
“Birdman”, or the unexpected virtue of ignorance, is an inventive and fresh satire on the themes of fame and finding meaning. It stars Michael Keaton as a washed up Hollywood actor who used to play the superhero “Birdman” in a successful comic book franchise, but now is trying to find meaning by putting on a play he adapted for Broadway. The movie uses the ins and outs of the play itself as a metaphor for life in the spotlight as Keaton battles onstage and off with the fame of his past and the attempted artistry of his present, a plot that not so subtly reflect Keaton’s own life, giving another layer to this already dense and poignant material. I mean this really is some beautifully layered work here.
Let’s start with the way it’s filmed. I try very carefully to not throw around this word, but the way this movie uses mostly one take to move not only through physical space but also time really is genius. Not just in concept but execution. It’s the perfect way to experience this world as a play and performance itself while at the same time hitting all the story notes it needs to. It also incorporates the soundtrack from drum beats to symphonies in really clever and inventive ways that also add meaning and energy to this process as well. None of which would mean too much if it didn’t have some incredible performances backing it up as well. Michael Keaton really does put in great work here, as do Edward Norton and Emma Stone, each getting their moment to shine in this kinetic ballet. But my favorite thing about it, has to be the way it uses character perspective to ground the metaphor and themes of the movie. Whether it be seemingly supernatural occurrences, or the way the music changes as characters walk to new scenes, every choice deftly plays into these ideas of the shallowness of fame and the meaning of its pursuit, and it does it all while still laying out a pretty interesting story, which is no small feat when you consider it.
But as much as it worked for me, you do get the sense that the movie does get lost enough in it’s own creativity that it might steal some of its accessibility overall. I can very easily see how many who watch this might find the indulgence and out of the box story work to be off putting and distracting. And the truth is there can be a real “manufactured” feel to a lot of this, especially the end, which to me felt forced and out of place with what came before it. I won’t give anything away, but if the movie ends about 10 minutes sooner I think it makes it’s point in a much more interesting way.
At the end of the day, “Birdman” is exactly the kind of creative and interesting artistry that often wins awards even if it doesn’t win mass audiences. Though it can feel a bit manufactured and indulgent, I still think the incredible beauty, concept, and execution of the metaphor keeps it flying at least as high as an A-