In preparation for the 2015 Oscars I am going to set out to watch the nominees for Best Picture and offer my thoughts. The first movie I have gotten the chance to see is “Birdman“.
I don’t really want to watch anything else. I’ve spent the last couple of nights watching and re-watching Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman” and, to those who haven’t seen it, you are missing out. It’s quite interesting. I see why my Facebook and Twitter feeds keep telling me it is the nominee for best picture. Can I say this is going to win best picture if I have only seen one of the nominees?
Let’s start with a basic outline of the plot.
“Birdman” centers around Micheal Keaton‘s (nominated for Best Actor) character Riggan. He’s the washed up star of the movie franchise, quick – take a guess, “Birdman.” We meet Riggan as he struggles to piece together a Broadway adaptation of the Raymond Carver book of shorts, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” The movie starts three to four days prior to opening night (i really should go back and count, let’s go with three), as Riggan is meditating (and levitating – we’ll get back to that) in his dressing room prior to rehearsing for one of the previews. As the action unfolds we meet cast and crew and eventually, we get to the rehearsal.
Let’s talk about some of those people we meet on the way to and at the rehearsal:
First off there is Emma Stone‘s Sam. She’s the daughter of Riggan and is working for him as his assistant during the production. Just out of rehab she’s a conundrum and her personality is well-discussed during the entirety of the film. Emma Stone utterly shines in the role. There’s a reason why she’s nominated for Best actress in a Supporting Role. More on her later.
Bursting into Riggan’s dressing room at some point is Jake, Riggan’s agent and co-producer played by Zach Galifianakis (who I no longer look like anymore – the dude lost a ton of weight for the role). Jake is panic wrapped up in nerves but keeps it together so he can guide Riggan to keep progressing with the show. While many people are going to point to his wit and comedic timing, Galifianakis really captures what the character is: part best friend, part cow-milker (meaning he is trying to get every last drop out of Riggan).
At the rehearsal we meet Naomi Watts‘ Lesly – an actress staring in her first role on Broadway. While she may be a secondary character, she eventually connects Riggan and Jake to Mike (Ed Norton, I’ll get there). Her relationship with Mike is chronicled through portions of the film through little vignettes.
Also at the rehearsal is Laura, played by Andrea Riseborough. Laura, who is sleeping with Riggan, has a sensual personality that is apparent throughout the film. Also an actress in the play, she seems to seek validation from Riggan.
The last important character, who only comes in after the original guy playing him is unable to keep acting, is Norton’s Mike. An accomplished Broadway actor brought in to “sell seats”, Mike is an alcoholic narcissist whose sole focus is keeping the play as credible as possible (in the most obnoxious way possible). Often the direct force opposing Riggan, Norton earned a nominee for Best Supporting Actor for the self-loathing hedonist. Here’s when Riggan meets Mike:
Once the incident at the rehearsal happens, Mike is added into the cast and the entirety of the film is a progression to opening night. As the play moves closer to opening night Riggan exhibits less control of his life.
Now that we have a basic idea of the plot, let’s talk about what I enjoyed in the film:
The camera work. The visuals in the film are brilliant. The cinematography, which has the feel of being one long shot, is deliberate and poignant. From the first person point of view shots, to the times where the camera stays stationary and lets things happen off screen, the film is creative and fresh without feeling over the top.
There’s a scene in the film in which Emma Stone’s Sam is tearing apart Riggan and it provides a perfect picture of everything her character is. She’s pissed off at her dad for not being there for her and she wants to say everything she can to hurt him. But when she’s done giving her opinion the camera doesn’t go back to get Riggan’s reaction. It stays on Sam. We see her lose all of the passion she had in the moment and watch her fill with regret. Take a look:
Watching Keaton slowly lose control as Riggan is why I keep coming back to the film (I think). It’s a beautiful mess. Like I said earlier, the opening shot of the movie is Riggan meditating in his whitey-tighties, levitating cross-legged in front of a window. The shot is the first of many supernatural abilities Riggan demonstrates throughout the movie. But they are not grounded in reality. The flying and the telekinesis are all manifestations of various issues Riggan deals with – usually in times of great stress (and often signified by music, typically drums).
I don’t know if I would call Norton’s character a comedic foil to Keaton’s, but the banter between them is nothing short of entertaining. Here they go get coffee to work out some issues after the first preview show:
As much as Keaton’s character goes downhill throughout the film, Norton’s character stays remarkably stationary in regards to development. Mike tells Sam at one point that he knows who he is – and is in control – on the stage, it’s off of it that he has no clue. It’s really honest to who he is.
Should you see this movie? Yes! It’s funny, exciting, and different. There are a number of award-winning caliber performances and it’s one of those films that you will keep going back to in order to find things you may have missed.