I have to be honest with you, the only reason this review exists is because I have to send a link to it to the PR company that let me attend the press screening, a link they’ll more than likely ignore anyway. Otherwise, I would have been perfectly happy with enjoying the manic yet profound honestly (Yes Riggan, you’re right, these are all pointless labels) of Birdman on a personal level, without having to intellectualize why I loved it so much.
Why would anyone want to write yet another overlong, pompous, self-important review about a film that presents such a compelling argument against such reviews in the first place? It’s important for someone who claims to be an adult human being to take on new and scary challenges in order to grow, gain experience and hopefully develop a thicker skin. However, it’s just as important for that same person to acknowledge when they’re bested.
In Birdman, Riggan (Michael Keaton), a washed-up movie star who used to be huge in the 90s thanks to his iconic role as a superhero (Basically, Michael Keaton) faces a theater critic (Lindsay Duncan) who’s convinced that she will destroy the Broadway play he staked his entire life into before even seeing it, and asks her "What have you sacrificed!? Nothing! I sacrificed everything!" At that moment, he might as well have broken the fourth wall and addressed the theatre full of critics. Even the film’s subtitle, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is a sly slap in the face to critics once you realize what it refers to.
When it comes to our particular opinion of a specific piece of art, the most we sacrifice in the face of all that the creators of said art have truly sacrificed is perhaps half a day spent consuming the piece and regurgitating our feedback. It’s painful to admit the truth behind "Those who can’t, teach, and those who fail as artists, become critics", but it doesn’t make it any less real.
It’s hard to admit to being a failed writer with a pile of screenplays never sold. My attempt at producing one of my feature screenplays as a low budget indie ended in disaster. Even when I decided to write a novel after being frustrated with screenwriting, I couldn’t even get my friends, family, not even my wife to read it, forget about publishers and agents.
All I have that reaches people are my reviews. In this case, I admit that Birdman defeated me as a critic. Yet that doesn’t mean I’ll throw in the towel. Any self-respecting artist will admit that once their work is out there, it belongs to the public. Well, the critics are part of that public. We just consume so much art that we can find no option but to run our big mouths about it.
Birdman is an endlessly creative and refreshingly honest (I know Riggan, here are those labels again) study about the acceptance of failure through the power of ambition and that, beyond the scenes that destroy the validity of criticism, makes it somewhat critic-proof.
At this point, I believe the only way to successfully review Birdman is to relay its many technical achievements in a cold and calculated fashion without becoming too emotional, while avoiding labels of course:
It is true that co-writer and director Alejandro Gonzales Inarittu, one-third of the recent Mexican new wave of directors along with Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, a filmmaker I knew was immensely talented yet could not see a film of his I truly loved until now, composed most of Birdman to work as if it was a single take.
Considering that in cinema, every cut is a lie, the fluid camera work by master DP Emmanuel Lubezki captures the truth in every moment via these long takes. Of course there are many hidden cuts and even clever time lapses in between scenes but Birdman represents an ambitious technical undertaking that pays off in spades.
Michael Keaton’s emotionally exhausting performance is definitely Oscar-worthy and represents a true comeback for the actor, ironically in a film that successfully mocks the pathetic nature of such a futile concept. The all around cast is extraordinary, especially considering that they were expected to perform 10-15 pages of material through long and complex takes. Edward Norton’s take on his reputation as a hard actor to work with, expressed through his role as an impossible actor to work with, one that makes Riggan’s life a living hell, is a delight (Damn labels).
Most of the film is scored through an improvisational jazz drum performance that not only perfectly summarizes the intense stress and self-doubt that Riggan’s going through, but also compliments the film’s own jazz-like structure. Some of the surrealist touches, which might turn off some viewers, I thought were right at home with the tone of Inarittu’s masterwork.
Yet are there any faults on display? Maybe.
Does the third act drag on a bit? Sure.
Does the ending make a lick of sense? Nope, and it doesn’t have to.
Does any of that matter? Probably not, just jump in and enjoy it.