I need to see ‘American Sniper’, just getting that out of the way up top.
Many of the people reading this haven’t seen ‘Birdman’. That’s not faulting you: It was a small film, playing on a few hundred screens across the country. It wasn’t accessible or easy to market to the demographic that watches Jimmy Fallon or <insert trendy TV show>. It wasn’t built to win out over a colossal marketing juggernaut like ‘American Sniper’, nor a critical lovefest darling like’The Imitation Game’ (which I have heard good stuff about from people I respect — I promise to see it).
But it overcame those things. Here’s why.
When Hollywood looks itself in the mirror, as it was forced to do by the casting of Michael Keaton in the starring role, it recognized something true. It wasn’t a pretty image, just like in ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ (yes, the movie). Yet, it was an image that was truthful and fully-realized. It was a reflection of what the movie-going audience sees when it looks at Hollywood and its bloated and self-referential excesses, its vanity, its detachment from real emotion and real art.
The great triumph of Alejandro Inarritu’s ‘Birdman’ is that it won the Best Picture Oscar, the night when the throng of hypocritical do-gooders pats itself on the back for “feeling” for others, spouting slogans at the podium. And gives most of the awards to people it likes and “owes” something. There’s an echo of that in ‘Birdman’, for sure, in the person of a crusty, old, white Broadway critic who feels she’s above everyone else.
What an honest and rewarding film ‘Birdman’ is! It’s nothing if not an ensemble film. (Though I might have wished for Michael Keaton to win Best Actor, but he got recognized at Saturday’s Independent Spirit Awards for that.)
Not only is Keaton spot-on as the aging, former big superhero star, trying to resuscitate a career on the Broadway boards. But Edward Norton lights up (literally) on screen as the seasoned, Broadway talent who’s brought in to bring gravitas to what might otherwise be written off as a the former star’s vanity project.
Emma Stone gives a bravura performance as Keaton’s daughter, a young woman trying to come to terms with growing up with divorce and her own bundle of life issues. There’s one scene between Stone and Norton, involving a game, that you must see. And the surprise of surprises here — Zach Galifinakis kills in a straight man role as the agent for Keaton’s character. He’s the calm center that the craziness of this whirlwind of a film flies around.
If you’ve heard anything about this movie, it’s the editing. The first 20 (might be 30-seconds) of the movie look like one continuous shot, and it’s performed while looping down winnowed hallways, around stairwells. Your brain knows it can’t be one take, but it’s just superbly done. If for no other reason than to marvel at the cinematography (the first of three Oscars ‘Birdman’ took home Sunday), go see it for the way it starts.
Just see it.
This Editor’s note: On a personal note, please pray or send good thoughts for myself and my family over the next hours and days. God knows the details. Thanks.