Birdman

Michael Keaton

Edward Norton

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstar

With every passing year, I wonder what really is behind the choosing of movies as Best Picture. Films like Birdman, The Artist, Chicago, and La La Land (which “won” for all of 4 minutes before the fallacy was explained) make me feel as if it is “the movie that speaks to the voters” rather than actual cinematic quality of the movies themselves that clinches the win. The struggle of actors and actresses who make it big will never ever be a foil for the American dream for me. Making travel plans to California doesn’t ensure anything will go well and the starlet/star waiting to be born is a tired tale told way too often and too poorly especially considering how close the makers are to the source material.

      Swingers executed it well without the glamour or glitz but rather with down and out actors commiserating with one another for getting turned down to play even Goofy at Disneyland. The doubt and self questioning there were universal to any job and not the main point of the movie. It’s a testament to our age of perceived entitlement in which films star people who expect to arrive fresh off the bus and then to be sent to the head of the line at auditions and lauded as the best actor ever, much, interestingly enough as the gullible ginger chump in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Red-Headed League. The inevitable whining and navel gazing afterwards always gets my blood up. “I’m the main character in this movie, everyone should do what I want.”

       Birdman is a different film, where a washed up Hollywood star comes to the sacred Broadway theater to perform a play he based on a series of Raymond Carver short stories entitled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” There’s much brutally honest talk about everything dealing with actors and actresses “making it” and all their First World problems like satisfying a fickle and insatiable public whose attention span can only seem to handle explosions and 30 second “viral videos” before they scroll down to the next bit of uninteresting media on their device. Everybody gives their A-game from the exhaustion and pressure  Keaton, a fellow Pittsburgher, exudes with every glance, sigh, wince (I love how he continues to use his inside voice even when cussing out an infuriatingly prejudicial theater critic) to Naomi Watts, the sometimes simpering actress who wants to be told she made it to Broadway finally, to the brilliant actor playing a brilliant actor Ed Norton, who is only honest onstage, finally to Emma Stone, who makes the most of her limited role with a fiery tirade on meaning something in the current world.

Director Inarrtu is fond of his gimmicks and here he seems to film the whole movie in one take. This means we do a lot of following people down narrow corridors, and pointing the camera at the sky until such time as the rest of the actors are ready to be followed down another corridor. To keep the corridor stalking from getting boring, he employs a jazz drummer to randomly belt out riffs which, while from a technical standpoint, are wonderful, they contribute nothing but background noise. Would it be too much to ask it to reflect the emotion of characters shambling around backstage the way instruments in a Japanese Noh play do? When I think about the lengths that other filmmakers nominated for Best Picture in 2015 went, filming children at various ages and waiting for them to grow up, revealing the behind-the-scenes stories of American Sniper, Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Hawking, and Alan Turing not to mention the always brilliant Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel,  I wonder, really what the voters were thinking. That isn’t to discount the positive points of Birdman especially the great final theater performance scene, but Game 6 did everything Birdman does and better plus it stars Michael Keaton trying to make headway in the world of the theater circa the 1980’s with Robert Downey Jr. as his critic, not one “who looks like she licked a homeless guy’s ass.”

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