Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) (2014)


Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 2014New Regency Pictures, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment.  Screenplay by Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu, , .  Cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki.  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by , .  

Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu recovers from the bloated mess of Biutiful with a big movie in a small space, an eccentric and deliciously funny look at the mad world of live theatre.  Michael Keaton performs a wryly charismatic riff on his own career as a has-been movie star whose past success as a superhero looms large over his attempt to make meaningful art.

The self-financed stage adaptation of Raymond Carver stories that he has written, directed and is starring in is in previews and the whole thing is threatening to explode, the loss of a key actor bringing in a theatre luminary (Edward Norton) who comes with a lot of grandiose baggage, added to a co-star () with whom he is having an affair, and a daughter (Emma Stone) who has just gotten out of rehab but hasn’t kicked her habit for self-destruction.

The magnificent cast, which also includes Naomi Watts and Amy Ryan, is guided smoothly through Inarritu’s vision by invisible cuts that, thanks to excellent digital technology, make it feel like the whole thing is one long take.  The effect is never gimmicky, it’s actually quite exhilarating, physically displaying the wryly humorous presence of cinema that thematically exists as the successful older brother to the scrappy little theatre:  these people are in the top tier of their world, performing in a highly publicized show on Broadway, and yet their career references are to movie celebrities, their goals to qualify in the world of film mean that there is an insecurity to their place on the Great White Way that they cannot surmount.

Norton is particularly memorable as the leading man whose devotion to realism makes Marlon Brando look like Marlene Dietrich, and Stone enjoys a few rounds with him that provide the movie’s only calmer moments when not watching the highly strung Keaton go completely mad within his own neuroses.  The gorgeous cinematography is also a plus, with the only drawbacks to the film being large chunks of shoddily written dialogue and an ending that kills the momentum and goes in an unsatisfying direction; we leave the milieu of the theatre far too long before the story concludes and it almost feels as if we have changed the channel.

Academy Awards:  Best Picture; Best Director (Alejandro G. Inarritu); Best Original Screenplay; Best Cinematography
Nominations: Best Actor (Michael Keaton); Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton); Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone); Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing

Golden Globe Awards:  Best Actor-Musical/Comedy (Michael Keaton); Best Screenplay
Nominations: Best Picture-Musical/Comedy; Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton); Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone); Best Director (Alejandro G. Inarritu); Best Original Score

Screen Actors Guild Awards:  Outstanding Motion Picture Cast
Nominations: Best Actor (Michael Keaton); Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton); Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone)

Venice Film Festival:  In Competition


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