Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Birdman or (Being Respected and Validated)

“Time is short and the water is rising.” 
             -Raymond Carver

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a triumph of direction, performance and audacity.   

Director Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu has essentially shot a film that feels as if it is a play.  Made up of a series of very long takes, the movie has the feel of playing out in just one continuous one.  You are watching a movie acted out like a play, in which the characters are often acting or rehearsing a play.  An adaptation of Raymond Carver's book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

I would say they make it look easy, but it looks as if it was a nightmare of logistics and choreography.  What it also is, is heartbreaking, dark, and funny.  

Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who peaked in his career 20 years ago after deciding to not play a comic book superhero for a fourth time.  It is of course extra poignant that Keaton played Batman twice and turned down 20 million dollars to do the third movie.  Because as he says, "it sucked."  We would then see his career slowly fade into smaller roles, in fewer "big movies."     

But Keaton is not the only person who seems to be playing a version of himself.  Actually beyond the superficial, Keaton is playing a man nothing like himself.  Ed Norton, however, might be a different story.  Norton plays a brilliant actor that can be an egotistical pain in the ass to work with.  I am not sure how Gonzalez-Inarritu approached Norton with the part.  But his reputation proceeds him.   Keaton is getting early Oscar buzz and it is completely deserved.  Norton also deserves best supporting actor consideration.  He is excellent.  And also, in a smaller way than Keaton, reminds us that we have missed him too.  

Every performance is strong.  Also of note is Zach Galifianakis, playing against type.  Amy Ryan, (who I am fine with seeing in every movie from this point on)  is perfect as Keaton’s ex-wife.  Emma Stone plays Keaton’s at least semi estranged daughter, but who now works for him.  She has good chemistry with both Keaton and Norton.  Those gigantic eyes might have been cast for her last scene alone.

Ambition.  Ego.  Being respected.  Being relevant.    

As Emma Stone's Sam, tells Keaton’s Thomson:  (paraphrasing) “You don't matter....You don't even have a Facebook page.”

Every actor in the Carver play is insecure and selfish.  Every actor also has moments of likeability.

Riggan sees himself left bare (literally) for his craft.  He gives everything he can to make and perform his play successfully.  Does he succeed or not by the end of the movie?  It might be irrelevant. 

But Gonzalez-Inarritu, Lubezki (cinematographer), Keaton and company have made a piece of art worth celebrating.

I once got into a discussion with one of my best friends, after he mocked my describing a Terrence Malick movie as an "art film."

"How can it be an art film?  It has stars in it?"

I found this view particularly odd; but I think of it now as a discussion of, can certain famous actors make art?  Are they even allowed in some people's eyes?

The critic in Birdman would seem to say, no. "You're a celebrity, not an actor."

That Malick film we were talking about starred Ben Affleck.  The latest Batman.

Ignorance truly is virtuous when it comes to making a film like this.  A lot of things have to work all at once.  Gonzalez-Inarritu has indeed achieved something special here.  I might call it art.  If you don't see it as that?  Hopefully you see it as a darn entertaining film.  For me, the best movie of the year, by far.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.

(From Raymond Carver's gravestone)

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