I kind of wish I had seen Birdman with a group, because Jesus, is my head filled with Clutter right now. If only there was somewhere I could clear it out...Hey...wait a second...
The previews for Birdman certainly seemed intriguing. Michael Keaton plays an actor named "Riggan Thomson" trying to find "legitimacy" on Broadway after having left a successful comic book movie franchise over 20 years ago. It's not a stretch to picture former Batman star Keaton in this role, and there are several veiled references to his actual past career decisions. Edward Norton (wait, not Burns? No, definitely Norton) plays Keaton's co-star ("Mike Shiner") in the play who comes from a theater background and doesn't think much of his former movie star lead. Emma Stone is Keaton's daughter ("Sam Thomson"), fresh out of rehab and unhappy with the world, and Zach Galifianakis is his lawyer/producer who is just named "Jake."
The basic movie plot is about the adventures of trying to get this play together, and the struggles that come with that. Fantastic. This film is about so much more.
It's about self-worth and what generates that. It's about hearing that inner voice that can be supportive, but it can also tear you down like no one else if it wants to. We so often seek the approval of others in so many aspects of our lives. First off, why do we give them that power over us. Secondly, what happens when it's not enough? When there's no amount of adoration/love/support from another person that can overcome that inner voice? How do you fight that?
It's about the utter terror of being brutally honest. How often do you think you do that? One of the things I love about Clutter is that it's allowed me to push past self-imposed restraints at times, but it's uncomfortable. It leaves you vulnerable. It's much easier to give yourself some wiggle room. Maybe not that you lie, but that you hold back some piece of the story.
It's about "art" (and who defines that) vs. commercial success, and much of that ties back to the self-worth issue. What does it mean if you've put some product out there for the world to consume, given it everything you have...and no one wants it? Does that mean it doesn't have value? Conversely, if you make a piece of superficial crap that has no soul, no part of you, and it's a massive success, does that mean it's good? Thankfully, I never have to deal with that at Clutter Headquarters. Everything we produce here is fantastic and is deeply enjoyed by millions around the world on a daily basis. But seriously, what gives "value" to your work?
The cast is uniformly terrific. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've seen Michael Keaton in anything since 1997's Jackie Brown, and I know he's been in a bunch of stuff since then, but his performance as Riggan Thomson is the kind of effort that in fact brings a career back up a notch. He certainly has to be in Oscar consideration next year. Burns (no, it's Norton) is intense as Mike Shiner, and I wonder how much of his performance matches up to his reputation for being hard to work with. Emma Stone is great as Sam Thomson, and does a nice job of bridging the generational gap between comic book movie stars (given her work in Spiderman) as she explains social media to her dad. Zach Galifianakis is enjoyably restrained as Jake, and it would be nice to see him in a few more roles like that to help him break free of his Hangover buffoon.
I also don't know if I've ever seen a movie that looked like this before. I saw Birdman in one of the smaller rooms at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. There was a large stage in front of the screen, and the place looked more like a comedy club or a theater for a small play, which was fitting, because director/writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu makes Birdman feel more like a play than a movie. Thanks to some clever editing, the movie looks like it's all one shot. The jazz percussion-heavy soundtrack also gives it more of a live theater vibe.
Birdman is a terrific movie and a must-see, but trust me, see it with people you know so you can discuss it afterwards.