What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
“How did we end up here? This place is horrible! Smells like balls” – Riggan Thomson.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Not exactly, but it just swooped down from nowhere, winning critics’ hearts, rallying cinema-goers back into the popcorn parlours and even revitalising ol’ Batman’s career, before flying off again with no less than four Oscars in its clutches. Grand Budapest Hotel got four as well, but this one’s haul was more prestigious.
Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is the sensational black comedy drama from Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu which fully deserved the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars respectively. It stars Michael Keaton as washed-up thesp Riggan Thomson, who is famous only for all three Birdman blockbusters, but they happened twenty years ago. Desperate to produce something intellectual and more fulfilling, he produces his own unlikely adaptation of a Raymond Carver drama on Broadway.
Having already covered superhero movies here and here, it seems only fair to cover this movie. Besides the fact that Birdman makes for a truly awesome viewing experience, it latches onto the current overwhelming fad for superhero movies, but lets off a few gripes at this inescapable blockbuster genre at the expense of more potentially artistic and cerebral cinematic fare. Most tellingly, it managed to produce something refreshingly unlike other stuff hitting our screens these days…
“Do not go to Birdman to relax. It stars Michael Keaton, who has always behaved onscreen as if he [had] a raging mosquito bite somewhere on his person but could not quite locate it… The Bat-Mantle has rested uneasily on Keaton’s shoulders ever since” – newyorker.com/magazine/
The script is clever enough – there were quite a few engaging one-liners and two-way spats. A clever symbolic illustration of Riggan’s mental downfall is reflected in having the deep and menacing voice of the Birdman alter ego goading the actor as he broods in his dressing room.
Special mention goes to Edward Norton, as Mike Shiner – a dependable, but conceited, oaf of an actor. Talk about wanting to get noticed – he even comes out with snazzy lil gems such as: “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige,” just on the off-chance that it’ll get quoted by Bradscribe! Close, but no bold font, bud…
Equally impressive is Emma Stone’s gutsy performance as Sam, Riggan’s daughter/PA. Particularly affecting is her wailing diatribe about her father’s need to be relevant, and the rooftop exchanges with Shiner (Norton).
Heck, not only is Birdman a cynical retort to celebrity and comicbook movies, but it reveals a weirdly compelling soap opera set backstage in a Broadway theatre. The much-heralded “flying scene” is made extra-special with the use of Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No.2 in E Minor Op. 27. Reassuringly, it is an exuberant reminder of what modern cinema can – and should – produce.
“And I thought the ego is a tyrant, and I thought that would be a cool thing to portray in a film” – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Having departed the UK a few days after Birdman’s release on Boxing Day, shockingly it would not get released in Thailand until the beginning of February – what a dilemma!
These last few mad and delirious days have been spent in the fabulous Garden City of Singapore, where there is a greater choice of big screen delights to catch up with. You wouldn’t believe it, but on my first night, the first two cinemas checked out DID NOT show Birdman!! Come on! Where’s the respect for Oscar winners, already?! How is this Post going to get done?! Got Followers waiting – nay, crying out – for my comments on this brilliant exposition of acting and celebrity in the Facebook/Twitter Age.
It’s been good to be back in Singapore again; it is humid, hospitable, offers a more eclectic variety of movies at its numerous cineplexes… and doesn’t smell of balls…
Apart from the costumed Birdman spouting into the camera that cinema-goers these days “crave this shit, they love blood. They love action,” it must be said that there is another demographic who crave something different and refreshing. Innaritu’s Birdman could not have come at a more opportune time. Talky? It’s well-written material, especially the jibe about Jeremy Renner and “his cape.” Depressing? We are on an uneasy ride through Riggan’s own mental turmoil. No matter how troubling these scenes may be to watch, it still makes for riveting drama. And philosophical? Nothing like a good study of general and fundamental problems as long as it’s handled properly…
But hey, in that magic moment when Riggan clicks his fingers and all hell – literally – breaks loose, there is more marvel and mayhem than some of the top comicbook movies it digs in the ribs…
“It is a film that has been widely hailed by the critics, despite – I am sorry to say – depicting critics as fatuous, shallow, parasitic and prejudiced” – Peter Bradshaw.
You’ll be happy – and relieved – to learn that Birdman didn’t incite yours truly enough to go marching through Singapore’s main shopping district in just his underpants… but as you well know, Birdman does give you that buzz which only well-crafted movies can deliver.
Riggan’s heartfelt plea to try and achieve something important in his life struck a profound chord with me. This blogger happens to be on a similar mission this week, to produce something meaningful, and stay relevant in rapidly changing techno-environs. Because – let’s face it – none of us want to be afflicted with the Kate Winslet Syndrome: being famous only for something done twenty years ago. There’s more to life than wasting time making silly videos and hoping they “go viral”…
To think Riggan – wallowing in self-pity – laments: “I’m nothing. I’m not even here.” But… you made one heck of a lasting impression here, man! Good for you! You’re a movie star, man!
And let’s be honest: we’re going to watch this instant classic again AND AGAIN just to hear you screech!
“That’s not the first time I’ve wandered through Times Square in just my underpants. Wait… you’ve never done that?! I thought everyone had…” Michael Keaton.
Up, up an’ away, man!