By Sean Cordy
Director Alejandro Iñárritu’s films have always followed a similar production method: a disjointed narrative to tell an epic tale of connection. But Iñárritu’s latest venture, “Birdman,” takes a turn to a linear production, yet it retains all the originality and complexities that his earlier features have exhibited.
We’re introduced to Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton), a former movie star of the fictional superhero franchise “Birdman.” He is at the bottom of his life, trying to vindicate his tarnished career by creating an ambitious Broadway production.
We don’t know why he’s at this point, but thanks to a gritty performance from Keaton, we immediately know there’s something that went wrong in his life. Soon on, we meet his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) and learn of their troubled relationship as she returned from drug rehab. But that’s just the beginning.
“Birdman” presents time in film like few others, following one character and event to the next without ever changing scenes.
As we move from our introduction with Riggan, we pick up on every nuance of his character’s situation since the camera never leaves the story, meeting many characters on the way.
One of the main attractions for audiences is Zach Galifianakis from his popularity with the “Hangover” trilogy. But the Galifianakis in “Birdman” is far from what we’re used to.
He’s a trim man, still touting his iconic facial hair, but he’s not the inept character he’s typecast as. He plays Riggan’s production manager, trying to guide Riggan through the crazy production while often overridden by Riggan’s ego – though there are plenty of moments to laugh at with him.
The ego of Riggan is one of the main storylines of the film. As much as Riggan has to deal with the complex situations with his daughter and ex-wife (Amy Ryan), it’s more about an internal struggle to find himself in show business. One side of him wants to leave the artistic venture he’s exploring to be seen as an artist, but he struggles to find acceptance.
Whereas, returning to the world as Birdman will bring him the attention he’s always sought from audiences that flood to the theaters for superheroes and sequels.
It’s this inner battle of Riggan where we find some of the most psychedelic moments in the film. Both he and audience see himself as a man with superpowers, controlling things with his mind and flying, among other things. It begs the question of what is reality. In the end, we’re left to decide that for ourselves – art doesn’t bend reality for just the audience, but for the artist as well.
“Birdman” also shows how difficult it is to produce art in the first place: dealing with self-absorbed actors, handling the press and all the small problems before curtain call. It all appears to be a nightmare, floating from one scene to the next in a non-stop, spectacular visual fashion among all the chaos.
This is Iñárritu’s attempt to speak to both general audiences and critics alike – much like Riggan. The film appeals to a more analytical breed of audience, and threatens to skip over audiences interested in superheroes and blockbusters. Fortunately, incredible performances and a darkly satiric stance on the entertainment industry mean “Birdman” is certainly worth a standing ovation, no matter what you’re looking for in a movie.