Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2014
Birdman is a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s a compact and witty exploration of one man’s ego, with imagery steeped in the magical escapism of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. On the other, it’s bloody smug and self-referential. Cloyingly so. Case in point: the second part of its title. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) sounds like an over-excited A-Level drama project, and there are times when Alejandro González Iñárritu’s bombastic, in-your-face romp certainly feels like one.
The film centres on a thinly-veiled portrait of Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor famous for his leading role in a successful superhero franchise, Birdman. In order to regain his acting credentials and ruffle some critical feathers (see what I did there?), a mercurial Keaton must juggle an attempt to stage a play on Broadway with a failed marriage, an arrogantly luvvy co-star (Edward Norton), a nihilistic daughter (Emma Stone) and a rapidly unravelling mind.
Occasionally too smart for its own good, at its best moments Birdman’s an intoxicating distillation of high Edwardian farce and deep Werner Herzog-ian introspection. However, like ropey tequila, it’s best drunk with a good pinch of salt. That’s because the plot is often clumsily manhandled, leaving threads dangling in thin air and me mouthing a silent “eh?” Furthermore, a headache-inducing rat-a-tat-tat drum soundtrack only serves to heighten the sense of smug chaos.
Please don’t get me wrong, I fully understand what Iñárritu’s trying to do here. It’s just not always successful or even entertaining. What is undeniable, however, is the chemistry between Keaton and Norton. Birdman spits sparks when they’re onscreen, leaving the viewer disappointed when they leave. There are also some memorable art-housey set pieces, but you get the sense that Iñárritu cut them in the editing suit with a knowing smile – one that I didn’t always share.
Birdman is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but nor is it ordinary, boring or bad. Come for the magnetic performances, stay to figure out what the hell it’s all about.
WORDS: MAX FIGGETT
I know for a fact that fellow LUNKHEAD James Arnold loves ‘Birdman’. Here are his musings on the nature of horror.