Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

 

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Alejandro González Iñárritu's Oscar-winning, navel-gazing extravagance is a genuine case 

of the Emperor's new clothes.

 

Birdman

A meta-muddle: Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis

 

There is a danger of ugly narcissism when filmmakers tackle the subject of filmmaking and acting. Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman, which has been praised for its bold originality, is just bonkers. At face value, it is the story of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), an alcoholic, telekinetic, washed-up actor once known as the star of a trilogy of superhero movies, in which he played the titular Birdman. As Riggan attempts to salvage his credibility with a Broadway production of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – which he has adapted himself – he must face both his demons and his alter ego.

 

Having played Batman himself, Michael Keaton is in a prime position to mine Riggan’s angst, which he does with a suitable degree of bile. Riggan was also a lousy husband and father and his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) has ended up in rehab. Ms Stone is probably the best thing in the film and supplies its most stinging moment when she rails against her father: “You don’t matter! You’re not important! Get used to it!” This sequence alone was probably reason enough to earn her her Golden Globe nomination. There are others, too – Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough – all of whom do a lot of ‘acting.’ Any note of real life comes from an unexpected quarter, namely Zach Galifianakis (of all people) as Riggan’s best friend and producer. In any other movie, Galifianakis would have gone unnoticed, but here he’s a breath of fresh air in a work crammed with histrionics.

 

Birdman is so self-aware that the brain aches. Critics have praised the fact that it ‘appears’ to have been shot in one continuous take, which is cool but really should have no bearing on one’s appreciation of the work. It is indeed a film critic’s wet dream, a meta-movie that constantly draws attention to itself, while Antonio Sánchez' percussive score strives to keep us emotionally off-balance. Like Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, it’s a self-conscious, strident opus that marries consummate craftsmanship with cynical, often surreal chutzpah. It’s also vulgar, grotesque and smug.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan, Bill Camp.

 

Dir Alejandro González Iñárritu, Pro Alejandro González Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole, Screenplay Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr and Armando Bo, Ph Emmanuel Lubezki, Pro Des Kevin Thompson, Ed Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione, Music Antonio Sánchez, Costumes Albert Wolsky.

 

Regency Enterprises/New Regency Pictures/M Productions/Le Grisbi Productions/TSG Entertainment/Worldview Entertainment-Twentieth Century Fox.

119 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 1 January 2015. Cert. 15.