When a movie is titled Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) you better believe it’s going to be a pompous, pretentious piece of cinema. I’d kind of like to call it a piece of something else but I’ll try to keep this review tasteful. Upon first hearing of the rave advanced reviews this movie was getting, I was happy to see that Michael Keaton is having a comeback. He’s always been an underrated actor who had some very interesting film roles early in his career. But I remember seeing some of the trailers for the film and not really liking anything about them. Maybe they were saving the good parts for when you actually see the movie, right? Wrong.
It looks like my intuition was right. But then that kind of means that all the critics are wrong. Well this is all subjective of course, but yes, sometimes movie critics see something that’s a little different from other films and they go crazy for it. Especially once there’s the slightest talk of Oscar buzz.
As for the plot of the movie, it’s actually pretty simple. Keaton plays an actor named Riggan Thomson who rose to fame playing a superhero named Birdman. He then falls from grace by choosing not to do a third sequel and moves onto other things. This is a bit similar to Keaton’s own experience playing Batman in the first two films and then not doing the third or any after that. He had some other hit films but his career eventually faded. So his character Riggan decides to stage a play which he will write, direct, and star in to get some of the acclaim that he’s been missing for years. But when the big-name actor he hires for the role winds up being difficult to work with, it puts both the play and Riggan’s comeback in jeopardy. The whole film pretty much revolves around the play. I mean that literally; most of the scenes are on the stage itself or backstage in dressing rooms. It tries to emphasize the character’s inner struggle between selling out and going back to the Birdman role or simply finding peace within himself no matter how bad his career may seem.
The one real positive thing I could say about the film is that the director does a great job at making the whole film appear as if it’s been shot in one take. The camera follows characters from one scene to another and it’s unnoticeable when the camera switches to a new shot. But this really is one of the most pretentious films I’ve ever seen. It’s full of one arrogant artsy shot after another. The movie even begins with a shot of Keaton in his underwear floating in the air sitting Indian-style. In fact, there are numerous scenes of him in his “tightie-wighties” as if to say look at how he’s baring his soul on screen and letting it all hang out! Even the music is pretentious. There are no actual songs played in the movie and barely even a musical score. All we get is the sound of drums being banged on as the character walks through hallway after hallway. It’s loud and supposed to stir up the dramatic tension that other music normally would. But that’s all it is, an alternative that makes the scene no better. And there are so many metaphorical moments of the actor flying in the sky or controlling objects with his thoughts as if to show that he’s still in full Birdman mode. It’s all just really ridiculous. And it’s sad to know that this movie will most likely be nominated for multiple academy awards including Best Picture. I can think of plenty of other movies I’d rather watch this year that don’t try so hard and scream Oscar at all the people who think they’re watching a unique piece of art. I just feel like I watched a so-so movie.