Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
October 15, 2014 2:58 PM - Subscribe

A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

Patrick Z. McGavin (Roger writes:
The first American screenings following its celebrated debut at Venice last week. Starring Michael Keaton in a revealing and highly self-critical performance, "Birdman" boldly announces itself with its propulsive filmmaking, the verve of the acting and a subversive engagement in expanding the narrative possibilities of technique and form. The bravura filmmaking is undeniable. I sensed something beyond that, as the extraordinary technological achievements were utilized to explore the nakedly human and emotional implications of the material.

Iñárritu wrote the script with Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. "Birdman" is an energetic and frenetic backstage comedy with self-reflexive flourishes of the hallucinatory and baroque that link it with such great films as John Cassavetes’ "Opening Night" and Bob Fosse’s "All that Jazz."

"Birdman" meditates on a great many themes, the nature of art and creativity, the veneer between ambition and madness, and the capriciousness of fame. It’s absurdist and darkly comic. Cassio's famous lament, in "Othello," of a reputation destroyed, "I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial," sets the wounded and anxious tone.
Peter Debruge at Variety:
[Edward] Norton very nearly steals the show from Keaton at one point. Revealing body and soul alike, both stars are inviting us to laugh at aspects of their real selves, though Norton initially seems the more impressive actor, amplifying his own intense commitment to realism to absurd extremes — with the hilarious result that finding himself in the moment during an early performance proves a rather dramatic cure for his character's offstage impotence. At first, Keaton doesn't seem capable of reaching as deep, either in reality or as Riggan, though that's before the humiliation of wandering through Times Square crowds nearly naked.

"Birdman" offers by far the most fascinating meta-deconstruction of an actor’s ego since "Being John Malkovich," and one that leaves no room for vanity. From the moment Keaton first removes his wig to the sight of him wrapped in Batman-like facial bandages, his performance reveals itself in layers. The role demands that he appear superficial and stiff onstage, while behaving anything but as the character's personal troubles mount and his priorities begin to align — at which point, he appears in a dual role, donning the ridiculous Birdman costume to hover, seen only by Riggan, like a cracked-out version of Broadway’s own "Harvey."
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu (Wikipedia, IMDb)

YouTube Trailer
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've seen Zach Galifianakis on a couple shows promoting this and I really want to see it for the 15min long takes, but is there any list of where it is screening online? I have a feeling it's going to be a good long while before it plays in Oregon.
posted by mathowie at 3:00 PM on October 15, 2014

I'm not sure how robust it is, but IMDb has a "find nearby theaters" feature that I've used in the past. Here is the IMDb page for Birdman, which lists the release date as October 17, so that feature displays "Coming soon," compared to the page for The Drop, which says
Get Showtimes & Tickets
In [x] theater(s) near [Anytown, State] US [change]
posted by filthy light thief at 3:06 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Very excited for this, and I'm hoping it heralds a massive Michael Keaton comeback.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:38 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

This movie has really great acting in it, and some of the writing is pretty good. The cinematography is top notch as well. But as a whole, I was terribly bored and didn't care one bit about any of the characters.

This is a well-made film, but I guess I just didn't "get it."
posted by dogwalker at 6:47 AM on October 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

The theater we were at offered a prize for someone with the best three word tweeted review of the movie. This was incredibly hard, because everything I thought of was exactly 4 words. Finally I decided on "Actors do acting."

It's a beautifully made film about creative life, but very specific to the theater. As someone who is not a part of that world, I often got the sensation that a scene was supposed to be funny for a reason I didn't quite understand. Instead, I was often left just appreciating the artistry, with the content flying a bit above my head.

The central conceit, production-wise, is that the entire thing is one faux long shot. I read that Iñárritu's goal was to have a dreamlike quality where you are following Birdman within his own mind and are never quite sure what's exterior and what's interior. How, then, are there entire scenes where he's not present, not a witness? Is he imagining the scenes between Edward Norton and his daughter? I'm not sure.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:35 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry may have spoilers:

It's all so real and not real. Saw this last night and loved it. NYC was so dirty, mean and hard. The characters too. Is that real? I liked wondering that. There were many times I wondered, wait is this real or something the character is imagining? And then something similar later would indicate yeah he is imagining these super powers. Then really soon after that something would suggest no it's completely real!

(partial spoiler) He had a stage gun that Edward Norton belittles as too fake and then later he has a real gun. Wow the anxiety of what would happen with that real gun on this stage was really tense.

Very fun push /pull on me as the viewer which I enjoyed. Edward Norton also comes in as this force that's wonderful and terrifying. Is he stealing the show? This movie? Is that what he is suppose to be doing? He was also all over having real gin in the bottles so much so that he would break from a fake character in front of a real audience to complain about how fake it was, the stage the props, this play inside this movie.

The actors would do their scenes on the stage then walk off and a conversation would start rapid fire between them and the camera would follow them back behind the curtain and through the theater. They would move fluidly from this realist play into their real lives in this movie that I'm watching that's NOT REAL.

It was crazy fun. I think I had to agree to let the movie just take me and push me around a bit as a viewer and I'm usually game for that. There's this great part where the movie goes off into what do audiences (me! I'm an audience here!) want. They want big loud effects! Big loud effects start happening and it's wonderful how distracting that all is. Dang, is that all I want? Maybe.

After we had a real conversation about what was real in this fake movie about a realist play about what really happened and what did not and that was super fun.

And if you're into LONG single shots this movie has amazing ones. The first edit was well after many scenes backstage in this theater in Times Square and that was a wonderful rollercoaster ride into this crazy film.
posted by dog food sugar at 4:38 AM on November 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

I saw this last night and I need to see it again. The camera work is so good it's almost distracting. Michael Keaton is great but Edward Norton's last line, delivered off camera, makes his performance perfect. My wife is an actor and was literally on the edge of her seat during parts because they take every actors nightmares and put then on screen and the ratchet them up to almost, but not quite absurd levels.
I liked this film but I'm not sure I loved it as I never sunk into it. I was always consious of how technically good the parts were. It did pass Kermode's 6 laugh test for me.
posted by Uncle at 5:17 AM on November 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

This was the best Hollywood film I've seen in years, I have to say. Very, very good. And by far the best Iñárritu has managed.
posted by koeselitz at 12:02 AM on November 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just came from watching it and it totally took my breath away. On the one hand, I have friends that are theater professors and I see their daily trials and tribulations over productions so all the backstage stuff was as real as it gets. Michael Keaton's performance was incredible (and Ed Norton was amazing too), but I loved the writing. Even with the flights of fancy and not knowing what was really real, the way the movie portrayed depression and imposter syndrome, and how daydreams of suicide go felt so real and raw and struck a chord with me in a way no other film tackling those subjects has before.

The camera work was extraordinary as well. I'm so glad a film could use the latest technical achievements on such solid material. There were times I thought wow, this camera is really spinning a lot, but mostly I was just amazing at how smoothly the long takes progressed and I just kept getting amazed at how the actors were handling the scenes, going from on stage to off to in the street and acting on several levels at once. I honestly have no idea how they did some of those shots from the street up to the second floor and then through a window and down the hallway.

Was the whole thing shot with those new Mövi camera stabilizers?
posted by mathowie at 10:41 PM on November 14, 2014

Spoilers as well..

What do people think about the end? It's quite ambiguous but I tend to think he died jumping out the window and his daughter's reaction was in his head, just like all the Birdman/action imagery and telekinesis. In his fantasy, he is flying, and she finally admires him.
Other possibilities...
• He died on stage and the hospital sequence is in his head or "heaven." I don't really buy this theory because I don't think we'd see his nemesis Birdman again if he really were dead.
• The whole thing is in his head as he is dying on the beach -- he tells his wife the story of the suicide attempt and the jellyfish, which we see at the very beginning and end.

I'm not sure what to think of the meteoroid.
posted by starman at 2:23 PM on November 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the CGI on her eyes is the giveaway that we are in the perspective of his psychosis. That's CGI right? Humans don't have eyes like that, do they?
posted by idiopath at 8:41 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Saw this the other night and came on to MeFi hoping there was a Fanfare for it. Yay!

My take on the film:
This is the kind of story that really never needed to be told again. The basic themes of middle-aged man trying to find meaning in the face of his impotence and faltering life goals, struggles for reconciliation and tries to get his groove back.
But as old as that story is, everything else about the movie is near perfect. The story's bones embody a simple trope that reflect the kind of classic Shakespearian motifs that would appear in theater. It is redoing what we know, but doing it sublime.

The music! My god what a great soundtrack. I want to watch it again just for the audio. And the nod to the drummer in the finale? Holy hell that was perfect.
The camera work! We are like a floating ego observing this all unfold. The long takes, stitched together ala The Way Things Go, really sucked me in. And the clever staging of scenes to compress parts of the day all just made me smile at their effectiveness.
The touch of "magic that isn't magic except maybe OK in that one part but maybe that's artistic license" really worked for me. It gave an edge to how all of these thoughts were manifesting in Riggin's head.

Keaton best get some awards for this, I loved watching him workj.
Norton: was very good for most of it, but his awkward romance with Riggin's daughter seemed a bit rough.
Galafinakis: this is the first major dramatic role I have seen him in and I loved him.

I don't think this movie passed the Bechdel test. There was a lot of back story and depth hinted at in all of the female characters and we dived in to none of it.

I loved this movie and very much look forward to seeing it again.
posted by Theta States at 7:06 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

What do people think about the end?

I have a theory that he didn't jump at all.
It starts with a resigned Birdman in the bathroom, who is no longer a powerful force since Riggan has proven himself on the stage and was successful.
I do think the end, with his daughter, was part of the psychosis, but she is metaphorically "Seeing him fly".
What came after that? Was it meteor and jellyfish?
Meteor could be the next challenge he will have to tackle, via Birdman symbolism.
And the jellyfish on the beach represent his suicidal narrative laying idle, washed up on to the shore....
posted by Theta States at 7:18 AM on December 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Regarding the Bechdel test, the part where the two actresses start making out may count (though it is brief).
posted by idiopath at 7:20 AM on December 2, 2014

Regarding the Bechdel test, the part where the two actresses start making out may count (though it is brief).

I thought of that, but it all started based on what the guy had said, then didn't really go anywhere, so felt it'd be cheap to count it as valid.
posted by Theta States at 8:53 PM on December 7, 2014

This is the kind of story that really never needed to be told again. The basic themes of middle-aged man trying to find meaning in the face of his impotence and faltering life goals, struggles for reconciliation and tries to get his groove back.

This is a completely ridiculous statement. I get that stories about men are obnoxiously prevalent, but "never again" is mighty high bar to say for half the population. This was a well done version of that trope and if other stories like this could be as imaginative and compelling in their structure, pacing, acting, cinematography and story, the world would be a better place.

I don't think this movie passed the Bechdel test.

In this particular instance, the story of fading actor stuck in his own psychosis, I don't think it matters. It's his story, told from his twisted view point, so yeah, it's not going pass every single test of being fair and partial.

That said, I enjoyed the film immensely, though I might need to see it again. Disappointed that about it being revealed that he got to the theater by cab instead of flying, as it feels weighted in one direction on the is this real/not real scale. The ending was great and confirms that he jumped, if you listen to the audio carefully.

I honestly have no idea how they did some of those shots from the street up to the second floor and then through a window and down the hallway.

Probably a combination of actual camera work and CGI. The only long take was great. And that dream sequence in the play, hilariously over the top in a way that only broken down over educate white middle aged man would do.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:42 AM on December 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the CGI on her eyes is the giveaway that we are in the perspective of his psychosis. That's CGI right? Humans don't have eyes like that, do they?

Emma Stone might. Here's an earlier close up of her and then the final scene. Goggling other photos of her, similar eye effects occur.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:16 AM on December 14, 2014

Before I saw it, a friend of mine made the observation "A lot of movies lately are trying to be about something, but this actually was about something." I like that. And it really was.

That's CGI right? Humans don't have eyes like that, do they?

Emma Stone is a movie star because she, like many movie stars, is built somewhat differently from most people. She's not as extreme as, say, Anne Hathaway, but few people are.

I don't think this movie passed the Bechdel test.

Sure it does. Naomi Watts gets called out by Emma Stone about how she just called her a weirdo behind her back, the two actresses in the play talk about their careers... for a movie mainly about a dude and his psychosis, the women are definitely more than tokens.
posted by psoas at 11:01 AM on December 16, 2014

I just saw this tonight. Maybe it wasn't a meteor, but a falling star? Or perhaps a shooting star? But it was sort of ambiguous, it also looked like a rocket taking off. I'm guessing the ambiguity was intentional.
posted by A dead Quaker at 7:13 PM on December 23, 2014

I'm glad no one told me this film was one long patched together steadycam shot. That was part of it's delight. It's almost Charlie Kaufman-esque overall. Very engaging, great performances. I think it'll be snubbed at the Oscars, but I feel glad I saw it, and think it'll stand a few rewatches, too.
posted by Catblack at 8:35 PM on January 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Surely the meteor is Birdman falling to Earth.
posted by crossoverman at 6:28 PM on January 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

The special effects in this film were extraordinary. Just before the two actresses make out, we see them facing each other, on on the left, one on the right. They're in the foreground of the frame. In the background is a mirror, showing their reflections. We're looking straight at the mirror. In the mirror should be a reflection of the camera, but there's not.

I'm going to watch it again soon just to see how often we see mirrors and there's no camera even though there should be.
posted by nushustu at 10:32 AM on January 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

psoas: for a movie mainly about a dude and his psychosis, the women are definitely more than tokens.

Really? It felt like the women were well-shaded background pieces, which shined for a moment or two, but were otherwise pretty flat. The one moment to possibly pass the Bechdel test was initiated by a discussion about a man, then Naomi Watts/Lesley and Andrea Riseborough/Laura turned to each-other ... because there was no one else who cared for them as much as they did for each-other? That really stressed the feeling like "this is a movie about a few male characters." Riggan had his younger girlfriend, then Amy Ryan/Sylvia appeared long enough for Riggan to look back on his life, and be a self-centered asshole again, bringing up a story about cheating when Sylvia was kind of falling for his charm again. The "romance" between Edward Norton/Mike and Emma Stone/Sam was awkward and felt more congratulatory to Mike for having found a way out of his slump with a pretty younger lady than anything positive for Sam, who had a good monolog, but that brings me to my next thought....

This seemed like a decent attempt to bring theater to the big screen, but on the whole, it didn't really grab me. Sam's monolog felt like such a moment ripped from a theater script, and as was Riggan's rant on the bravery of actors. Maybe that was the point, to merge theater and film. My wife said it was like Hollywood and New York patting each-other on the back for being awesome in their own special ways. The washed up Hollywood actor does something bold and finally wins over the visually unappealing old critic, despite Riggan's venting/ranting speech that was an attack on her profession and an elevation of the actor as the risk-taker. Anyway, how do you follow up shooting off your own nose? Any recreation of that act would be a copy of the original shock, and the shock effect would be lessened each time.

The running shot feature was well-done, and didn't quite feel like the gimmick it might have been. The music was great, and really made the movie feel more like live theater, with a live musician scoring it as it ran. I think there was an earlier nod to the drummer, first as a street performer, then working inside the theater, but in some weird room.

I'd watch this again, but only to pick up all the foreshadowing (the reference to the failed suicide and "honesty" of true, vivid personal pain comes to mind), but I'm afraid I'd end up hating all the characters even more.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:54 AM on January 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

This movie bored the heck out of me, and although I can appreciate the cinematography, the plot was basically another mid-life-crisis wank-fest. And clearly Oscar-bait if there ever has been. I wish I had those 2 hours back.
posted by likeatoaster at 7:34 AM on February 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I just watched this last night and was expecting something related to Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. Guess I should have looked and seen if it was actually related before making the assumption.

The movie was good, but not what I was expecting and not what I was in the mood for.
posted by LizBoBiz at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2015

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