(Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu) (2014)
This is an interesting and well-made film that suffers from an empty space about its heart. The 1990s star of “Birdman 1, 2 and 3”, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton – get it?) spurned Birdman # 4 when at the top of the Hollywood pile, and is now a penniless has-been with substance abuse issues and an uncertain relationship with reality, as evidenced by his schizoid exchanges with the alter-ego Birdman character, who comes and goes, alternately revving and razzing Thomson in a voice reminiscent of Frank in Donnie Darko. His comeback (or if you hate the word, return) vehicle is one of Raymond Carver’s many unremarkable short stories, that Thomson is adapting, producing, directing and starring in.
Thomson’s demeanour is one of electrified bafflement, best summed up by the episode when he is locked out of his own theatre and has to run the gauntlet of Broadway in his undies: there are heaps of tantrums (nicely accompanied by some telekinetic touches), fights, flirting, excessive consumption of alcohol, catty behaviour, sharp dealing, a lot of self-pity, acid criticism, and a scene-stealing egomaniac actor (Edward Norton) brought in to bolster the cast, all befitting a backstage psychodrama a la All About Eve.
There can be no serious quibbles about the acting. Everyone is terrific although the ladies have little to do (we except Lindsay Duncan as a ferocious and snobbish critic that would make Addison DeWitt seem kind). Keaton is great as the mad, deluded gambler facing a long run on the black. The film is shot beautifully, restlessly darting and gliding about, following the actors, emphasizing the close and claustrophobic backstage world. It hurtles on with some C.G.I. and rapid drum strokes and fills emanating from the street and resounding within, too intrusively at times.
And yet, are the matters covered here so intensely first-world problems? Should we care? How much of the star’s troubles are simply the product of a mind diseased? Is the use of Carver’s gin-soaked story “What we talk about when we talk about love” a metaphor or a comic device? This is no ‘Short Cuts’: what we see of the adaptation is the effect of home surgery, amusingly brought home when Norton’s character, in rehearsal, cuts out three of Carver’s four lines as repetitive. Much is made of a mawkish soliloquy when Keaton recalls a car accident victim who can’t see his wife through the bandages (aped at the end of the film). The quote that opens the film is taken from words inscribed on Carver’s tombstone. Is this a homage, or part of ‘the unexpected virtue of ignorance’? Does the dare prove true – does the bird man eventually get to fly away? We don’t know and we don’t know if we care.
TVC also found the comments regarding the ending of Birdman at these sites to be thought provoking-
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