Friday, October 24, 2014

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance Movie Review

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton (r) star in Birdman


'How did we end up here?' It's the "we" that causes all sorts of havoc in Alejandro González Iñárritu's delicious Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. Thankfully, that havoc is displayed in perfect harmony with an all-star cast and some of the best writing I've had the pleasure to witness in some time. Birdman is perplexing, revealing, riotously funny and smart... all at the same time. Part of me wants to declare it one of the year's best films; while the other part thinks it may be too out-there (or even too inside) for the masses. Whatever the verdict, rest assured... Birdman takes flight, and we're all the better for it.

Rotten Tomatoes Plot: BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) famous for portraying an iconic superhero, as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself.

What’s Best: Birdman masters the brilliance and raw passion that is theater, taking special aim at the insecurities of actors in general. Lesley (Naomi Watts) breaks down and asks, 'Why don't I have any self-respect?' Castmate Laura (Andrea Riseborough) replies, 'You're an actress honey.' Meanwhile Riggan (Keaton) is an absolute mess throughout, taking time out to lament, 'I look like a turkey with leukemia.' It's a wonder they made it through previews.

Keaton's in line for serious Oscar consideration; and it's hard to argue with the sentiment. Granted, his character facilitates all kinds of possibilities; but it takes a quirky talent like Keaton to execute them all, with subtle near-perfection. Bouncing lines off the likes of Norton doesn't hurt either; and I wholeheartedly enjoyed Riggan's family triangle with edgy Sam (Emma Stone) and ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan.)

Last but not least, credit Iñárritu (and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki) with reviving the often underutilized long take. Lots of movies claim to put you in the middle of the action: This one does. Trickier still, those scenes transcend levels, rooms and walls (there's no place like Broadway.)

What’s Not: Theatre isn't for everybody; and neither is a movie like Birdman. I sat next to a guy who appeared to be sitting in general discomfort for the film's entire 119-minute runtime. To be fair, had I not starting reviewing musicals and plays of late... I may have been right there with him. Birdman is smart... perhaps too smart for many audiences. Tossing that kind of mojo in the ring with a delusional, desperate once-been, and you have the potential for implosion.

Best Line: When Riggan asks Lesley how she knows Shiner, she cooly proclaims, 'We share a vagina.' Priceless. Even better, Riggan's explanation for his financial woes, 'My health outlasted the money. Go figure.' Big props to the writing quartet of Iñárritu, Armando Bo, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. and Nicolás Giacobone.

Overall: There are so many layers to Birdman, it begs for a second (perhaps third) viewing... like Christopher Nolan's Inception, only minus the spinning top. It takes some effort to keep track of the multiple dynamics going on simultaneously, so make sure to see it on the heels of a good night's sleep. Otherwise you might miss Riggan's alter ego delivering the ultimate motivational speech, 'Get some surgery: 60 is the new 30, motherfucker.' Trust me, that's only the beginning.