The much-publicized (and over-lauded) Interstellar recently challenged audiences to explore the possibilities of human existence freed from the concepts of time, distance and the composition of the cosmos. In that film, “big-idea” director Christopher Nolan and an army of brilliant special cinematic technicians plucked Matthew McConaughey out of an Iowa cornfield and propelled him into a fantastic blend of cosmology and science fiction. Now comes the gifted Mexican writer/director Alejandro Iñárritu (Buitiful, Babel, AmoresPerros) who invites audiences to do the exact opposite – delve deeply into the “reality” humans can invent without leaving the confines of their own skulls.
Riggan Thomson, a washed-up movie star famous for his recurring role as “The Birdman” in a series of commercially successful science fiction movies, tries to make a financial and artistic comeback by adapting and starring in a Broadway play based upon a Raymond Carver short story. Mocked by his drug-addicted personal assistant/daughter (Emma Stone), burdened by the neediness of his female lead (Naomi Watts) and confounded by the arrogant attacks of a co-star (Ed Norton) who seems intent on torpedoing the project, Riggan teeters on and finally succumbs to a voice in his head which insists he’s morphed from being Riggan the man into Birdman the legend.
Shot in a series of long, uninterrupted takes which convey the claustrophobic atmosphere of legitimate theater and immeasurably enhanced by a script co-written by Iñárritu, Birdman gives Stone and Norton their best roles in years - - but it’s Michael Keaton as Riggan who delivers a performance of his career playing a character bearing an apparently uncomfortable resemblance to the actor himself.
The director and his cast enjoy savaging many aspects of their art: the dizzying silliness of celebrity, the self-absorption of method acting, the low expectations of “preview” audiences and most brilliantly, the pomposity of big-budget Hollywood movies blatantly purporting to be more than are. It’s in this last dimension that Iñárritu’s modestly financed, intriguingly written and incisively-acted satiric drama achieves what Nolan’s overlong and rather ponderous Interstellar failed to do: fashion the elements of a fiction film into real insights about the contradictory, flawed and mysterious phenomenon we call life.
The Verdict? Vulgar, vital and endlessly intriguing…but not for the casual moviegoer.
Jake's Takes comments powered by Disqus