So I went to the movie theater one snowy afternoon and saw two films that both had drums beating all the way through them. Now I have drums beating in my head. Drummers are rather like NFL kickers, they are a breed apart. But I digress. Michael Keaton will forever be known for his star making role in Beetlejuice. He has made other good films over the years, but its hard to escape the shadow of a giant and very successful role. And interestingly, in his new film, nominated for Best Picture he is also nominated for Best Actor, against some stiff competition. Even more interestingly, Keaton plays an actor who previously had played a super hero named Birdman and could never get beyond that role to another major one, and so was doomed to always be thought of as Birdman, and indeed even thought of himself as that, and had little conversations with himself as Birdman. It is sometimes hard to tell with this film how much we are supposed to think of as reality and how much its just all in Riggan’s head. One wonders whether Keaton appreciated the irony of playing a role that imitates his life.
The movie focuses on a play that Riggan (i.e. Keaton) is producing and starring in which is in rehearsal on Broadway. It desperately needs better financing and good reviews to survive. We are treated to a behind the scenes look at the neuroses of the actors, their interactions, their stupidity, their egos, and also their talents and humanity. One doesn’t really come away liking any of these characters very much. The cast is an all star cast including Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galafianakis Edward Norton, and more. The ensemble is very good. What really makes this film exceptional is in fact the way it is filmed. There are long segments, as much as 25 straight minutes of filming where the camera just follows around Riggan, or another member of the cast with no cutaways. We are mostly back stage in the theater, though occasionally we are on stage, and there is one hilarious scene of Michael Keaton running around in his underpants in front of the St. James theater near Times Square, having been locked out of the back door of the theater. And did I mention we get to see Birdman soar over Manhattan as well?
There are lots of unique and interesting elements to this film, with a surprise ending too. It will be interesting to see how the Academy evaluates it. One thing for sure, just as Whiplash didn’t make me want to be a jazz student in NY, so this film did not make me want to be an actor on Broadway.