Michael Keaton plays a washed up has-been actor whose career has seen better days, and is trying to re-introduce some acclaim by directing, writing and starring in a play. We follow him go through an internal monologue (which would appear to be the character Birdman he used to play), possibly having supernatural powers and generally having trouble with other human beings.
As you can tell from the feeble attempt above, this is quite a difficult film to explain, or put a label, it’s not really out and out any one genre. If someone put a gun to my head and told me to decide on one, I’d probably just go for either comedy or drama, whichever I thought of first, hoping that I hadn’t just accidently named a camel instead (that’s a dromedary joke y’all).
So difficulties with genre labelling aside, I have to tell you that Birdman is absolutely brilliant. Even just purely from a physical level, it’s a masterpiece. It would appear for all to have been shot just in one continuous shot, I mean obviously they cut at some points, but you’d never know it. The soundtrack is something I’ve not really heard at all before, in that it is almost entirely comprised of drums, which gives the whole film a feeling like we are getting into the head of Michael Keaton, and you know what it is messy in there. It is all filmed in and around one theatre, which is this fantastically lived-in dilapidated building (again echoing the main character’s inner self).
And Michael Keaton is amazing. He really is. It may appear that actually this character he’s playing isn’t actually all that far away from himself. I mean a guy who after a series of superhero movies didn’t really make any more good movies, sound familiar? But in a way that makes it all the more impressive, because this is a risky role to take, Michael Keaton is risking (like his character in Birdman) having the world laugh at him. But we aren’t laughing at him, we are laughing with him.
Don’t think it’s a one-man-show though, because equally stunning performances come from everyone in the supporting cast, Edward Norton plays a kind of charming yet initially very unlikeable famous stage actor who ends up being a very sympathetic character by the end, it’s a role you don’t usually see Ed play but you wouldn’t have guessed it at all. Other gems are Emma Stone playing the recently out of rehab daughter of Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts playing a previous lover of Norton who also acts in Michael’s play and Zach Galifianakis playing a more serious role that he does usually. Andrea Riseborough is another standout.
So what is Birdman actually about? Well it is sort of a satire of Hollywood: on the sequels and superheroes, on the way that people like Liam Neeson are now considered action heroes in there older age, where they were cast mostly in dramas as young actors – “60 is the new 30” says Michael Keaton’s internal monologue – . But it is also about a father and a daughter trying to reconnect, and about the need for a person to feel relevant, to feel needed. And every character goes through that and in their own way experiences this.
Overall, it really is a must see, it’s hotly tipped for a number of Oscars and it’s not hard to see why, it really is fantastic. But what is special about Birdman, is just how beautifully odd it is. Birdman is a properly properly strange movie. And you have to watch it.