Thanksgiving week arthouse binge part 1: Birdman

Birdman is the best goddamn thing and if you haven’t seen it yet you are a loser who deserves scorn and ridicule.

#betterbatmanthanbenaffleck. Photos courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures.

SCORN

AND

RIDICULE

The film follows Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a washed-up former superhero actor trying to earn legitimacy on Broadway. After a lead co-star is hospitalized, he’s able to cast Lesley’s (Naomi Watts) boyfriend, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) to the orgasmic pleasure of the New York Times and ticket buyers. Thompson, who develops psychic powers over the course the film, comes to grips with the fact that he’s the only one in the world who cares about his play.

The movie is the meta-est meta movie that ever metad a meta movie. Thompson is adapting Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, in which four friends discuss crazy ex-partners and what forms love can take, with the conversation centered around Teri’s ex-boyfriend who abused her and killed himself after she left him. But the movie itself is an elaborate adaptation of this same play. Throughout the film, characters reflect on the roles they played within the story, with Thompson taking on the role both Mel, Teri’s boyfriend whom he plays in the film, and Ed, her abuser. There are several layers of reflection between the backstage drama and the on-stage story.

It’s Black Swan meets American Hustle — it’s a hallucinatory narration from a person taunted, literally, by a greater version of themselves, and it’s got the latter film’s special blend of silently funny awkwardness. It’s filled with dozens of shots like this. This scene is dead serious, with one small exception.

Acting choices are also very surreal. Keaton plays a superhero actor who suited up too early, before Marvel made it the blockbuster de jure, trying to make something ostentatious and artsy to get attention, which is exactly what the real Keaton is and what the real Keaton is doing. Norton plays a talented, lauded actor who resents his celebrity and has a reputation for putting too much input into his movies, a reputation over which Norton lost his own superhero role to Mark Ruffalo.

This movie is a blast. It is a symphony of acting and prose and everything that makes movie snobs want to get out of bed and go to the movies. It’s all apparently one shot, though it’s clear fairly early how much writer/director/producer Alejandro González Iñárritu is cheating. But it’s a good effort. The point of plays and of plays on film is the authenticity of a live performance, the Illusion of First Time, and Birdman captures that like a serial killer captures moths.

It’s Oscar bait, but the bait is worth biting on. This is the movie awards were conceived to emphasize.

I want to sing about this movie. I want to shout my adoration from the hills. But there is no combination of words that can communicate how unbelievable this film is more than the film itself. Find where it’s playing and see it.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. Moving on is a chance you take every time you try to stay together, woahoah… I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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One Response to Thanksgiving week arthouse binge part 1: Birdman

  1. Pingback: Audacious production sunk by poor writing, editing decisions | Reel Entropy

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