The hardest thing about being an actor is that it is a very unforgiving profession. While a steel mill worker is given a big send off retirement party when he leaves, an actor faces something very different. They are in the trend business and just like fashion, have to fathom new ways to continue staying relevant, therefore continuing to get work no matter how demeaning it is. It’s the dream to be able to walk down the red carpet to the applause of millions waiting, but once a star gets a taste of it, they’ll continue to be thirsty for that love.
If you talk to anyone who used to be a big actor in Hollywood or Broadway, they’ll say that their biggest regret was not taking some deal that could have made their career last longer. Perhaps it was an award winner or even a big blockbuster, but every actor will admit to wanting to be back at the top. What’s tough about that is that most folks over the age of fifty do quite understand what the young people are into. There’s no easy way to figure it out, but these actors need to find something that will get them attention again. Perhaps Birdman can give them inspiration?
Riggan Thompson (played by Michael Keaton) is a Hollywood celebrity who has career has been in decline since his days playing a superhero named Birdman (yes, it’s supposed to be like Batman). He is in the process of making a comeback by writing, directing, and staring in a play in New York. He’s getting help from his producer/lawyer Jake (played by Zack Galifianakis) and the play is starting his girlfriend Laura (played by Andrea Risborough), Lesley (played by Naomi Watts), and another actor that doesn’t last long.
A fallen lighting rig injures one of the side characters (we learn that Riggen had planned this), so they are lucky enough to get Mike Shiner (played by Edward Norton) to fill the place. Mike is anything but easy and even stops a preview performance when Riggen switches his real gin with water. It doesn’t help that Riggen’s adult daughter Sam (played by Emma Stone), whose a recovering drug addict, has littler confidence in her father. Riggen also keeps having a vision of his Birdman counterpart mocking him and his show. All Riggen wants to so is prove that he still matters in the world of entertainment.
Birdman benefits not only from a very good story about acting, but with how it’s shot. It has a behind the scenes feel as the cameras It has the look of a continuous take, which probably resulted in the actors having to memorize longer pages of dialogue, just like theater actors. It’s very Kubrick in pacing and tone, almost what Interstellar was trying to go for, but Birdman pulls it off much better. Even the soundtrack is close to a Kubrick feel as most of it is classical.
Going back to the acting, I’ve always been a big fan of Michael Keaton who has been underused in recent years. Blame the Hollywood system, but Birdman proves that Keaton has got a lot of ability to play different characters. He is a big Oscar possibility. Rounding out the rest of the troupe, Edward Norton plays kind of a parody of himself as his character is difficult to work with (as is rumored with the real life actor) and does it well. He’s the theater guy who is fighting back against the film actors trying to step in on Broadway territory. It’s clear that the message here is that while acting is tough, trying something else for glory is a big risk, but whether you want to continue living in a shadow of a past is your decision.
I’ll give this five Birdmans out of five. Birdman is the most avant-garde of the big award movies coming out, so it’s clear that if you want something more linear and straightforward, it’s not here. But Birdman is still one of the best of the year thanks to it’s classical musical-like tone that’s both haunting and entertaining.