When I was in fifth grade, I won the lead in our school’s production of ‘The Life of Johann Sebastian Bach’. I was a young kid who felt somewhat like an outcast, who didn’t really have many friends and didn’t really fit in anywhere. I hated sports, I was mostly picked on by the jocks, the few friends that carried over with me from Grade School had found other pockets of peers to sit with at lunch and I mostly stayed to myself. I didn’t really know that I could sing (it was a musical) or that I could act until we were brought it for tryouts (it was pretty much mandatory that everyone in my grade go and read the same lines and sing the same song). I read my lines, I sang my song, and then I went back to class. Then, two weeks later, I was sat down in front of the whole grade and handed a script and told that I had the part of Bach.
The whole process was new to me, but it was exciting. It was electric. I learned my part and every other part in the entire play. I became sort of this celebrity in the school, especially after rehersals started, because I just went for it. Even the jocks, the same kids who used to kick me at recess, steal my books and call me names, were inviting me to sit with them at lunch. The coolest kid in school’s girlfriend, who played my wife in the play, even gave me a kiss during rehursel’s even though it wasn’t part of the script. The big night, which was strategically placed on the last day of school, went incredibly. I got a standing ovation (which, like, was going to happen even if I sucked because it was school and parents do that kind of stuff) and after the curtain dropped every other kid in the play came over to tell me how incredible I did and how awesome the whole thing was.
Then I woke up the next morning, the debris of my life as an actor floating into thin air, and I went on with the life I had before I became famous, because with Bach in the past (recent, but still past), I was now back to being me, which was a nobody.
‘Birdman’ tells the story of Riggan Thomson, an actor who was at one time a celebrated face, a man who donned a cape and became a hero on screen and off, but who has lost himself and his purpose, as an actor, as a husband, as a father, as a man. Without the success to define him, he has become a nobody, and so in an attempt to regain what he’d lost (and maybe even reinvent who he wanted to become), Riggan decides to write, produce, direct and star in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. Reinvention isn’t easy though, and it isn’t free, and with opening night looming in the foreground, problem after problem, both external and internal, begin to fray the edges of Riggan’s intentions and his sanity. With an ex-wife, a recovering addict daughter, a neglected girlfriend, a panic-stricken agent, a vicious critic and an egotistical actor on his hands, Riggan begins to crack under the pressure, but it is his own inner demons that pose the greatest threat.
There is something so fluid about ‘Birdman’, something so natural and organic, that makes it so infectious and engaging. Maybe it’s the fact that it feels like one long take, moving from room to room, from place to place, without a single glitch in the fabric of the ‘scene’, or maybe it’s the way that the ensemble as a whole (every single performance pitch perfect) works with such natural progression of character, falling in and out of character (the one they portray in the play) with such naturalized tensions, or maybe it’s the way that the film’s script moves from verbal communications and expressions to internalized ideas with such raw and rich detail. Maybe it’s all of those things coming together in the hands of a director capable of guiding them to the right place.
It’s funny to me how the world has openly accepted ‘Birdman’ as a comedy, because this isn’t really a funny movie at all, but a darkly complex look at what self-deprecation will do to a human being. Sure, there are zingers here, and the dialog is sharp tongued and at times makes us laugh and smile, but this is not a comedy; at all.
That scene, with the critic, in the bar, says so much with such harsh realism.
‘Birdman’ explores acting in a way that feels so relatable, identifiable and honest, exploring it in a way that puts it in our realm of understanding. This transcends acting or mere depictions of acting because it is about individual purpose, what makes us feel alive, important and loved. The way that Riggan’s experience and his determination to reinvent his own success is remarkable astute and really speaks to everyone’s individual need for reassurance and love.
I also want to say that, personally, I don’t understand that ‘Black Swan’ comparisons, since that film, for me, was a tacky and shamelessly exploitive film that didn’t really contain any deep understanding of its own intentions (and it was a blatant ‘Red Shoes’ rip-off). ‘Birdman’ may deal with actors and may have a man haunted by a talking bird, but he isn’t so much burdened by his ambitions as he is weighted down by his own self-perception and his total loss of what his reality really means. ‘Birdman’ is a universal and complex story of a man, an average, everyday man, trying desperately to remember what it means to feel necessary.
A+, and honestly, while I'm not wholly decided yet, this could be the best film of the year. Certainly a masterpiece of cinema and vastly superior to that film about a boy.