Review: BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE)

By Darin Skaggs

If you really think about it every man-made item can be viewed as art. Stops signs, doors and even ketchup bottles are all made to look appealing, they are made to not look too weird as well. All of these are made for us to blend in but not be boring. All of this is way too bloated of an idea, so let us take a look at pieces that are actually considered art. Most paintings or sculptures are made in similar ways as the signs or ketchup bottles. They are fine to look at, at times very pretty, but mostly just there to not be boring but not so interesting. There are perfectly nice paintings of cabins or a portrait and sculptures that look very realistic. They are good accomplishments but most of the time nothing to gawk at. Now let’s take a look at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Some artist just splatter paint all across a wall with no structure or paint a single dot on a white canvass and have the gall to call it art. Certain critics will adore these works along with the viewers of these. Others, inevitably, will not warm up so much to it; they will criticize the lack of planning and organization. Alejandro González Iñárritu takes the art of film and filmmaking and throws it all up against the canvass. Some of it sticks, some of it doesn’t but it all adds up into the ambitious, fascinating Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

Michael Keaton stars in Birdman as Riggan Thomas, a once glamourous movie star now struggling theater actor trying to become relevant again. He is writing, directing and starring in his new take on What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. This play has taken its toll on him and not helping is the fact his male co-star is a horrific actor. After a freak accident that may or may not be Riggen’s fault they are forced to hire a new actor to play the part. Luckily Lesley (Naomi Watts), who is also starring in the play, knows Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who is critically adored in the theater community. Mike agrees to do it and becomes a challenge to work with despite being talented.

With all that going on Riggan also struggles with connecting with this daughter, moments going wrong during previews and the voice of his former superhero movie character tearing down his confidence. Like the painter who throws everything against the wall and hopes it looks good, Iñárritu throws every idea he can. One being the superhero phase the film industry is going through. With a lot of the ideas in the film the point is a bit unclear. Keaton is clearly hired because of his history with the Batman character; it is parallel with the created Birdman character in his film and now being a mostly unknown name. That part makes sense but why hire Edward Norton, who used to turn into the Hulk for Marvel and Emma Stone, Riggan’s daughter, who has just departed from the reboot of Spider-Man. It is never clear along with a lot of the ideas, there is a one sided critic who is viewed as negative, Riggan might have a superpower that is left up for the audience to decide and the film even challenges the technical aspect.

It may not be totally noticeable at first but the film is pretending to be all one long take. For two hours it gives off the impression that there is no cut. It is a very theater like situation. At times hours pass for the characters but not for us much like the next scene in a play. Other times it just seems too ridiculous for any of us to believe it, almost like they want us to know it is not a long take and that they do cut. Iñárritu and the screenwriters at times seem to be screaming for attention. They are desperate for us to know it could be one long take, the score is jazzy and is mostly just drums and bass and they show frustrating scenes like a critic dissing Riggan before she even sees the show. He even teases expectations of the movie goer. Riggan may or may not actually be Birdman but Iñárritu is not interested in any answer, a CGI bird is hinted at but is quickly dropped. Iñárritu also plays with your desire, having Norton fully strip but never revealing anything. Also for no reason he has the two female leads start to kiss passionately then interrupts the situation and then leave that scene, never going back to the storyline. Throughout he sets up and disappoints, all being completely intentional. The whole film is screaming “Look at me! Look at me! I’m controversial!” And while doing it saying what has to be done to be noticed and hopefully even respected. Even Riggan has to humiliate himself to get the amount of recognition he desires after he gets locked out of the theater only in his underwear during a preview.

Birdman is not for the faint of heart. It is surprisingly well-acted due to all the other distractions that Iñárritu is throwing at you, not a bad performance in the bunch. It takes on and somehow at the same time celebrates filmmaking. Some people are bound to love the painter that closed his eyes, chucked the paint and hoped it came out beautiful, so someone is bound to adore this film. Others will not, some may hate it and that is okay. The film is not for everyone but its very existence is important for humanity to not become boring, scripted art that is just going by the book. We need both to keep us sane.

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