Birdman: Oscar Winner Benefits From Unique Style

Michael Keaton as “Riggan” and Emma Stone as “Sam” in BIRDMAN. Photo by Alison Rosa. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox.

When it comes to filmmaking, the Michael Keaton-starring Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a unique achievement in cinema.

The film, featuring a star-studded cast, is Michael Keaton’s comeback so to speak.  Did he ever go away?  Well, probably not.  Regardless, Keaton turns in one of the greatest performances of his career.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) used to portray the iconic Birdman.  While battling his alter-ego, the actor now mounts a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story.  It’s clear that his alter-ego has no plans to go away.  As such, Riggan’s attempts at recovering family, career, and himself are easier said than done.

One could look at the concept of Birdman as being a metaphor for Keaton’s Batman portrayal.  After all, he left the franchise after two films.  Anyway, Riggan is still haunted by his past.  He’s now a has-been but this isn’t stopping fans from wanting to get a photo with him.  Colleagues find the play to be a foolish attempt but Riggan wishes to be seen as an artist.  It’s one thing to prove to himself that he can do it but it’s certainly another to prove to everyone.

And yet, Birdman just won’t leave him alone.  Birdman follows Riggan around like a shadow.  It’s not unfair to think that family or co-workers might look at Riggan as having a nervous breakdown.  This idea is certainly possible.

A freak accident takes out the lead actor during rehearsals.  As such, Lesley (Naomi Watts) suggests that Riggan hire Mike Shiner (Edward Norton).  Best friend and producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) also urges Riggan, who is seemingly reluctant to hire Mike.  Shiner may be considered a loose cannon but this is a guy that can sell tickets!  On top of it, Shiner should be able to draw some rave reviews.

As the big day inches closer, Riggan finds himself dealing with girlfriend/co-star Laura (Andrea Riseborough), his fresh-from-rehab daughter/personal assistant Sam (Emma Stone), and ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan).  Talk about the play being a family affair!

While Keaton is phenomenal, Emma Stone delivers one of her greatest performances.  Stone surely benefits from the film’s long takes especially when delivering a monologue to her father.  The actress was only building up to her Oscar-winning performance in La La Land.

One of the things that I like about the long takes is that it lends of a feeling of being in the theater.  It offers more than a feeling of watching a movie.  It’s as if we’re actually there.  The film presents such a different visual style than we’re used to seeing.  If as much as one actor flubs a line, make no mistake that the scene is getting re-shot.  This is the type of film that you can’t really work around an error so easily.  It certainly isn’t the last time such a seamless narrative would be used.  Between the performances and the craft work, Birdman absolutely deserved its Best Picture win.

Anchored by Riggan, Birdman takes a look at human existence as seen through the characters. However, the film manages to walk a tonal tightrope between comedy and pathos, illusion and reality. In doing so, this allows for multiple interpretations especially in the film’s closing moments.

DIRECTOR:  Alejandro G. Iñárritu
SCREENWRITERS:  Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr. & Armando Bo
CAST:  Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

Fox Searchlight Pictures opened Birdman in theaters on October 17, 2014. Grade: 5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.