‘Birdman:’ a sure-fire hit at the Oscars

By Sutton Bradbury-Koster

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(Courtesy of  New Regency Pictures)

(Courtesy of New Regency Pictures)

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a brilliant and gripping cocktail of social satire and existential melodrama that every movie theater in America and elsewhere should be serving.

The feature film opens with a quote from Raymond Carver, the protagonist’s idol.

“And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so? I did. And what did you want? To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.”

This quote speaks to the core of Michael Keaton’s character as he struggles to find his purpose during the turmoil that is his career and life. We are then introduced to a series of disorientating images, flashes of pictures that later become important.

The score is terrifying and beautiful, riddling you with suspense until all goes quiet and we are left with a shot of Riggan (Michael Keaton) meditating and floating in his dressing room. He is literally levitating (in his tighty whities no less). The movie projects this level of comedy right from the start. We expect some level of emotional energy, but instead we are greeted with an underdressed, middle-aged floating man. Riggan’s supernatural abilities go completely unexplained throughout the whole movie, a topic that seems like it merits addressing. Later, we begin to understand that his “superpowers” are a metaphor, hinting that celebrities transcend the human race and are capable of otherworldly powers. The movie not only mocks actors, but also blockbuster hits, like one scene in which literally everything blows up.

The satire doesn’t end just there – this movie is riddled with irony from start to finish. Tongue-in-cheek jokes galore punctuate every scene. Even those that are fueled by emotion and drama can end with the deliverance of an off-hand joke that goes almost completely unnoticed. However, the greatest irony comes from the plot itself. Keaton is portraying an actor who once was involved in a multi-billion dollar comic book movie franchise and is attempting to regain some of his former glory by directing and starring in a Broadway musical. Sound familiar? It should be because Keaton played Batman in Tim Burton’s interpretation of the tale back in 1989 and has since become rather reclusive. He has starred in many movies since, but none of them became real box office smashes or critically acclaimed performances. Essentially, Keaton is playing a glorified version of himself, one that he embodies perfectly.

There was talk about Keaton’s excellent performance and his eligibility for the Academy Award for Best Actor at the upcoming 87th Oscars. Whether these are rumors or not, it is certainly a topic of interest as Keaton delivers arguably the best performance of the year. While the rest of the cast can be described as nothing less than star-studded, Keaton, without a doubt, takes the cake, the frosting on top and everything in between. Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts all perform at top-notch, but nothing compares to Keaton’s range of emotion and believability.

Keaton’s triumph is aided by the cinematography. The movie appears to be one continuous shot. Let that sink in for a moment. Shot in real-time, some actors would have to perform pages upon pages of script without fail. This choice allows for the audience to become completely immersed in the art, further driven by occasional fourth wall breaks where the actors appear to directly address the audience. It feels like you are following these people around as opposed to watching a movie. An atmosphere is established that allows for the acting to seem so much more believable and genuine. Keaton is a troubled man attempting to salvage his career, fiscal life and family life. He plays every emotion on the spectrum from blinding fury to unbridled happiness and forlorn depression to unhinged insanity.

This movie may not be for everyone as it can be a bit artsy and easy to misunderstand certain aspects, such as Riggan’s superpowers. If you can accept these aspects, then you’ll love the film and you won’t be able to look away. Even if you aren’t head over heels for it, you can do nothing less than respect it. Making a film appear to be one continuous shot is an audacious feat that this film accomplishes splendidly. The drum score compliments the atmosphere and the cast backs up everything else. Everyone can at least find something to enjoy about this film and if the acting, satire and cinematography don’t get you and your friends talking, the ambiguous ending certainly will.

Sutton Bradbury-Koster can be reached at [email protected]