Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) | Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Andrea Riseborough | Review

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4 Chicks SmallJacqueline Monahan

Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
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Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) | Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Andrea Riseborough | Review

“Tell me, what is my life…?  Tell me, who am I…?” sang George Harrison in his 1971 hit What Is Life.  It’s an age-old question that has been asked by humans since the dawn of time and continues to be pondered by individuals such as Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) as he attempts to produce and star in his first Broadway play.

Riggan portrayed an iconic superhero named Birdman in a trilogy of films in the ‘90’s, and still hears the feathered crime fighter’s voice, goading and chiding, and daring him to accept his winged and beak-bedecked alter-ego as an integral part of himself.  Riggan disagrees.  Birdman has become an embarrassing career choice, one whose legacy he’s desperately working to overcome.  He’s an ACTOR, and will prove it by mounting a production on the “legitimate” stage, emoting in front of a live audience in real time.  

The play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is full of angst and contention, just what Roggan needs to complement his harried personal life, one that includes concerned ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and recovering addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who resents him for being what else? an absentee dad.

Also surrounding Riggan are several bundles of neuroses in the form of fellow actors Laura (Andrea Riseborough) with whom he’s had an affair, first-time-on-Broadway-and-freaking-out-about-it Lesley (Naomi Watts) and loose canon method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who insists on drinking real gin onstage when his character does. Shiner clashes with Riggan about truth and integrity within a role; Riggan clashes with himself in a love/hate relationship with his Birdman persona, imagining himself imbued with levitation, flight, and telekinetic powers.  

Friend, lawyer and fellow producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is a fretful touchstone trying to keep both the aging actor’s (and Shiner’s) volatile temperaments in check. Riggan has bankrolled the production to the point of personal bankruptcy and needs a good review from famed theater critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) who loathes Hollywood pop culture icons to the point of threatening her worst review ever on the play, sight unseen.

Riggan has his wings…er…hands full.

Keaton pulls off a skillful circuit of emotional calisthenics; Norton’s in-your-face intensity meshes nicely with Stone’s insouciant pragmatism.  Galifianakis, understated for once, seems the sanest among them.  Refreshing.

Director/producer/co-writer Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful, 21 Grams) poises his camera to literally follow Riggan on his self-appraising journey amid the swirl of onstage characters, public perception, familial relationships, and the omnipresent Birdman persona.  

Long scenes without visible cuts allow events to unfold as we watch; one conversation diminishes down a hallway, another picks up onstage.  The journey is frequently accompanied by a jazzy, frenetic drum solo banging out the urgency of situation, at least in the convolutions of Riggan’s crackling synapses.  

Magical realism at intervals brings Riggan’s conflicted ego/screw-up/am-I-relevant musings to the screen, allowing the actor to manifest both his abilities and dark side in surprising, sometimes startling, ways.  The final scene’s impact depends on how literally or figuratively the viewer interprets Riggan’s character(s).

I’m going with…up.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – Emily Dickinson