Birdman is a captivating film. But let me warn you that the whole movie is overlaid with a disturbing cocktail of testosterone and alcohol. A lot of both. Usually that’s enough to put me off, but Birdman is interesting enough that I just let it go. The story is a mixture of hallucinations and acting, of truth and dare, and of drama and pathos. It’s like pickled magical realism. It moves so fast that it flies. There are hilarious moments and upsetting scenes, but it is never dull. The critical downside is that there isn’t a single character who is easy to love – except perhaps his ex-wife, but she just has a benign, minor role.
Michael Keaton does a kick-butt job as the crazed, sleep-deprived lead character, Riggan Thomas, who mortgages his future to adapt, direct, and star in a Raymond Carver short story. Edward Norton steps in as the mean, drunken supporting actor. Riggan’s daughter Sam, just back from rehab and still a mess, is played with bigger eyes than a Keane painting by Emma Stone. Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, known for the complexity and darkness of his work, keeps things explosive. The film is up for nine Oscars.
I was struck by the narrative parallel between Chris Rock’s Top Five and Birdman: both were about male entertainers who were taking a last-ditch risk to change their career trajectory. Both seek to be taken seriously and to shed their former success in superficiality. Both look at the angst and insecurity of actors.
There were scenes that made me uncomfortable or offended, but the reckless choreography and the intensity of the work were exciting. The musical score augmented the power of the film, not the least a drum theme that turned up intermittently throughout, played by a phantom drummer. In the end, I dug the film, found it edgy, wild, and cinematically riveting.