BIRDMAN OR is an incredible movie on a technical and craft type level. It’s like a play, really. Mostly dialogue and centered around one building, but it’s also very cinematic because it’s photographed ROPE-style, as if the whole movie is one continuous shot. Of course it’s not, that’s all an illusion, and it’s not even supposed to mimic real time. Sometimes it will pull up to the sky and it will become day or night before it comes back down, or the events within the shot will make it clear that time has passed. One second they’re in a rehearsal for a play, the next there’s an entire audience there. Pretty tricky stuff pulled off with the genius of director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, expanding on the long takes he did with Alfonso Cuaron in CHILDREN OF MEN and GRAVITY. The director/co-writer this time is their buddy Alejandro González Iñárritu (BABEL).
It’s the story of Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, JACKIE BROWN), who was a serious actor but became known mainly for playing a super hero in a trilogy of movies in the early ’90s. Now he’s trying to adapt a Raymond Carver story for the stage. He’s having all kinds of problems right before the first preview, while also dealing with emotional crises about his lagging fame, his perceived lack of respect as an artist, his failed marriage (Amy Ryan plays his ex-wife, still in his life), the crappy job he’s done as a father (Emma Stone plays his recovering junkie daughter/assistant, who is constantly annoyed with him and her job). So we, as the point of view of the camera, hover there and watch his rehearsals, his arguments, we fly through the labyrinthine back halls of the theater, into the dressing rooms, onto the scaffolding, onto the stage, outside into crowded Times Square. There is crying, fighting, fucking.
Meanwhile Riggan seems to be losing it, he occasionally hears the Beetlejuice-like voice of his movie character egging him on and finds that he can move objects with his mind and even fly. In fact we first meet him levitating in a yoga pose, but still managing to look pathetic in his slightly loose tighty whiteys and dingy theater-basement apartment that the narration tells us “smells like balls.”
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VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.