Friday, February 6, 2015

You’re gonna hear me squawk…


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.

WTF.

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.

22 comments:

  1. Birdman was certainly close to the top for me. It's just an expertly made movie that knows so fully what it wants to be and is just plain executed by all involved. I haven't heard to many comparisons to Black Swan, but I certainly see none. I don't think I hated it as much as you, but it's certainly a movie that I never want to see again. Birdman will be a movie that I will return to over and over. I love that you highlighted the scene with the critic at the bar. That is a great scene that I think is proof enough why Keaton deserves the Oscar. Great post! I love how you've connected your own life experience with stage acting to this film. You know my writing. I adore personal connection and believe it's the most important aspect of what makes me love the movies I love.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've heard a few compare it to Black Swan, and I see the comparison from a narrative standpoint (and some similarities in presentation), but they are entirely different animals.

      And thanks...I'm much like you, in that I love to personally connect to a film.

      Delete
  2. It's definitely one of my favorite films of last year. That scene where Riggan confronts the critic is fucking great. Keaton should win the Oscar. After all, he is Batman!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've stated here before that I'm not a Keaton fan, but this is about as brilliant a pairing of character and actor since Rourke and The Wrestler...it just begs to be rewarded, and it deserves to be.

      Delete
  3. I liked your story at the beginning, and I absolutely love this film. A+ indeed.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow ... you have been prolific today! I have yet to see this movie, but it's coming to our one theater here in Podunk, Virginia. :-D I am very excited.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a really slow work day ;-)

      And SEE THIS...it's also on VOD (which is where I purchased it) so you can see it there.

      Delete
    2. Thank you for reminding me that I wanted to come back and read this review. Beautifully written and -- thematically -- I think you nailed it.

      Delete
  5. I was bullied-severely and bummer-I didn't have any acting experience to bring me out of that drudge for a short time so glad you did! This is a must see film for me for many reasons and the top one being that it sounds like a truly original film. BTW-I hated Black Swan and can not understand why so many people thought this piece of crap was great. We call our one overweight cat(whom we got that way) Fat Swan as she is a bits nuts

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OMG, Fat Swan!!!

      And I didn't hate Black Swan, despite the harsh words used...but I didn't love it either :-P

      Delete
  6. Oh man I loved the review and then

    "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)."

    http://31.media.tumblr.com/d8887ee0a66cdd958cd4dab6bcef64e0/tumblr_muyzuzbeyq1r7cmcvo9_250.gif

    You just dissed my all time fav film and retelling of my own life :D But I'm glad you liked Birdman!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, at least we have Birdman! (and Gone Girl!)

      And I don't hate Black Swan...in fact, I handed it quite a few Fisti noms and even wins, but there are aspects of it I hate, and recent viewings have soured me to all the hype and hoopla over it. Portman's performance is so one note and stilted, and the film never really delves dip into anything, merely settling for being this operatic thriller when it could have been something so much more.

      It's beautiful and stirring though; and wildly entertaining...just kind of blank.

      AND, my Red Shoes complaint, I feel, is legit. The Red Shoes is an astonishing film that actually delivers on the depth of the story...and it's practically the very same story. I urge you to check out the 1948 film. It's brilliant.

      Delete
    2. I watched Red Shoes, there two are about different things. And I fail to see how Swan is blank, it shows the horrors of loneliness and perfectionism and depicts the sacrifice in the name of something grander faaaar better and more profoundly than Birdman.

      Delete
    3. It's just an opinion. I know that a lot of people love Black Swan, and see things in it that I don't, but I just have never connected to it in that way. I feel like it's revelations of blind ambition and perfectionism are better played in The Red Shoes. I also feel like it's a completely different film, thematically, than Birdman. I find it interesting that you would say Black Swan handles certain themes faaaar better than Birdman...when isn't Birdman your #2 favorite film of all time?

      Regardless though, I totally understand that I'm in a minority with regards to Black Swan. I mean, even Josh has it as his BP winner in 10. A lot of people love it and find rich connection to it. I'm just one who doesn't.

      But that is why film is amazing, because it speaks different things to different people.

      Delete
    4. "when isn't Birdman your #2 favorite film of all time" I don't know where on Earth are you taking this from.

      http://cinematiccorner.blogspot.com/p/favorite-films.html

      Delete
    5. Sorry, I misrememebered your statement here:

      http://cinematiccorner.blogspot.com/2015/01/166-gone-girl-wasnt-snubbed-it-was.html

      Top Ten of all time...but still.

      And nice list...so happy to see 3 Women there...LOVE that movie.

      Delete
  7. Standing O for that awesome review! I've seen this twice, and it just plays so well. Everything - the layered screenplay, flawless direction, spot-on performances, fluid camera movement, that jarring score - works beautifully. I so hope this wins Best Picture!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This may be the first year since...maybe ever...that the Fistis and the Oscars are in sync with their Best Picture choices.

      Delete
  8. Solid, solid review. I liked Birdman and quite honestly found myself a bit hypnotized by it. But at the same time I just don't see it as the modern masterpiece that others do. I think it is a movie that is trying to say several interesting things but it hardly says much at all. I know I'll get shredded for this but for me it is a movie that thinks it is a lot more profound than it really is. And I did love the cinematography but there were times I wished it would just stop and let the actors work the scene. There were instances where the stalking camera annoyed me. And some of the things were just corny such as the theater critic angle.

    BUT, the performances were strong, the whole acting angle was great, and the claustrophobic theater setting was perfect. And as I said, there was a sort of magnetism that the film possessed. I was glued to it.

    As for Black Swan, this was much better than Black Swan. Not a fan of that film at all.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nah, I won't rip you to shreds. Everyone sees things differently. I felt like this said a lot, especially about our need to feel important and needed, but not everyone will feel that way.

      But I will agree that it was magnetic ;-)

      Delete