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2014 is starting to look like the year of the movie gimmick.

It started with “Boyhood.”  All anyone wants to talk about is how it took Richard Linklater 12 years to make this film, what an extraordinary achievement.  Never mind that a) he’s not the first to film a series of characters over a decade long arc and b) what’s on the screen is barely watchable. And then “American Sniper,” which, based on the buzz, is more about America’s relationship with its soldiers than about what actually happens on the screen.  Right-wingers and left-wingers talk about “Sniper” so differently it’s hard to believe they watched the same film; after seeing it for myself, I have to wonder if either side was watching the film very closely.

And now here’s “Birdman,” another big mess of a movie, that everyone is raving about for reasons which have little or nothing to do with what is up on there on the screen.

Michael Keaton plays an aging, mostly forgotten actor who was once a big deal because he played a caped superhero.  This is interesting, because Keaton is an aging, mostly forgotten actor was once a big deal because he played a caped superhero. Edward Norton plays a notoriously difficult actor, which is interesting because Edward Norton is a notoriously difficult actor. Zach Galafinakis plays his level-headed, pragmatic lawyer/producer, which is interesting because I never thought I would use words like ‘level-headed’ and ‘pragmatic’ to describe a character played by Zach Galafinakis. Naomi Watts is neurotic and insecure; Emma Stone just got out of rehab, and looks like it.  You get the picture.

Keaton is staging a Broadway play as an attempt to revive his career, which is a bold, risky move away from what he’s known for.  (Director Alejandro Innaritu is staging an artsy comedy in an attempt to revive his career, which is a bold, risky move away from what he’s known for.  OK, I’m done.)  He is kind of obsessed with fame, and getting it back. He has almost no idea what love and admiration are apart from fame. He’s an absent-minded father and was once a terrible husband. There’s a voice in his head that alternately tells him he’s a genius and a total loser who has no idea what he’s doing. He may actually have superpowers, or maybe that’s in his head as well.  The directory plays coy.  I hate that.

Oh yes, and one more thing: Innaritu has structured the camera work to make it look like the whole thing happens entirely without a cut.  I remember another movie a few years ago that did this: it was a haunted house pic with Elizabeth Olsen in it. It wasn’t very good, either.

OK, yeah, I’ll admit, “Birdman” is better than that.  It’s miles away from being as good as it wants to be, and all that pretension is irritating, but it’s not a completely bad movie. It’s pretty fun to watch Edward Norton chew scenery. There are some decent sort of half-assed ruminations on the nature of fame, and the life of actors, and theater. Nobody’s really searching hard after truth, but hey, if it’s right there in the candy jar, nobody’s going to pass it up, either. There’s an enjoyable shagginess to it, and it avoids formula, giving it a feel of its own.  Though it did remind me of “Synecdoche, New York;” another, far superior film about a director struggling to mount a stage production.

It won’t make my top 10 of the year list, and this is very obviously a film engineered to make lists.  And, full disclosure, five or ten years ago, I probably would’ve been suckered in by all its meta-ness and put it on a list.  But now, I’m not even sure I’d recommend it (unless you were trying to choose between this and “Silent House.”) But if I was channel-surfing through late night cable, I’d pause.  I might even stay and watch it all over again, and marvel at what a mess it is.



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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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