Birdman. I've been hearing about this movie for more than a year now. About how it was a tiny little flick, but that it was going to resurrect Michael Keaton to superstar status due to his insane performance on a plot semi-related to his real-life dealings with being Batman in those two Tim Burton movies from over 20 years ago. I had been eager to see the finished product, but it was on such limited release that it wasn't until just a few weeks ago that it came anywhere near my hometown. I announced to family and friends that I was planning to see it, and my dad told me, "That's the one with Keaton in it, right?.... Hmmm, I'll go with you. Should be fun." I was ecstatic that he wanted to see it too (he's a lot of fun to hang out with), and I couldn't see anything that could possibly go wrong with our evening.
The first thing that went wrong with our evening was the fact that Birdman turned out to be a total schizophrenic art-house drama about a man's decent into self delusion and total madness. That kind of story is not my father's cup o' tea, if you get me. We walked out of the movie in silence, then he turned to me and said "That was definitely one of my top 3. Yes, definitely one of the top 3 WORST movies I have ever seen in my entire life. You know that movie, August County, August in Osage County, or whatever, that your mother made me go to last year? That's another one of my top 3 worst movies." I asked what the last of his Top 3 Worst Movies was and he told me that he was sure that he had one, but Birdman's awfulness was eclipsing almost everything from his mind right now and he couldn't remember. I then let it drop.
I personally didn't hate Birdman. In fact I thought it was pretty good for what it was trying to do. We get to watch a very talented actor (I've loved Michael Keaton ever since Mr. Mom, goddammit!) play a role of a man who's slowly losing his fucking mind on a Broadway stage (and behind the scenes), and who takes everyone around him down with him in his bizarre and balls-out-trippy destructive path of pure self doubt and regret in what was cleverly edited to look like one giant take with no edits.
Here's what it's about — and I'll put spoilers around stuff that takes place more than halfway through the picture. I have to talk about events that occur later on in the story just so that I can make my final rating make sense.
We start off with a couple of random images (comets, jellyfish washed up on a beach, general weirdness), then we find an almost naked Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) in a dressing room, meditating, while also hovering 2 feet off the ground. He soon starts getting dressed, using his telekinesis as he walks around putting clothes on, before heading down to the stage of a Broadway theater where he's going to direct and star in a play that he wrote that's having the first of its few preview shows before its big debut. One of Riggan's co-stars is a nebbish actor who just can't emote the way the director wants, but in the middle of trying to get any real acting out of the guy, a stage-light falls on the poor schlup's head, almost killing him.
This is when shit starts to turn, as Riggan uses the opportunity to recast the part of the injured man, and he believes he's lucky enough to get Broadway actor extraordinaire Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) to fill in the role just hours before the first preview. Mike is a dick, but he's good, and in a short time he makes Riggan's play even better, but then, during that night's preview he gets upset in the middle of the performance when Riggan slyly switches out his real bottle of gin (which Shiner was getting faced on in front of the packed audience), and fucks the whole thing up by throwing a prima donna hissy fit which makes the crew drop the curtain and cancel the rest of the performance that night. Goddamn actors...
On top of all this shit, we soon realize that Riggan is hearing voices... More precisely he's hearing the voice of Birdman, a superhero role he played for 3 movies in the late 80s/early 90s. The voice is pompous and mostly negative towards Riggan and his life choices since turning down Birdman 4 and trying his hand at other shit since then. Trying and mostly failing. Now Riggan is pretty much broke, and this play is his last chance at not only finding acting redemption, but also getting some sort of financial security since he's as poor as Hobo Joe, and he just refinanced his Malibu house that he was going to give to his recovering daughter/gopher as a gift. He's pissed that superhero films are where the BIG money is nowadays, and he's super-duper jealous of Robert Downey Jr. for making upwards of $40million per Iron Man/Avengers movie and for being respected for it when he, Riggan, was the original big screen superhero, and his old role is now a joke to the world at large.
OKAY, THIS IS A GOOD TIME FOR A SPOILER ALERT
Things start spiraling out of control for Riggan, mostly due to Mike being a douchebag supreme. Mike gets interviewed and lies about his reasonings for being in this play (stealing Riggan's emotional reasons in the process), and he starts hitting on Riggan's daughter and trying to rape a female costar (and ex-lover) on stage during another preview show. The way Norton plays these kinds of assholes so well really makes me wonder what he's like outside of movies... But I digress.
During the next and final preview performance, Riggan accidentally locks himself outside of the theater just minutes before his big final scene, and is captured on hundreds of people's phones running around to the theater entrance in his tighty-whities in order to make it back in time to finish the play (which gives him the biggest online trending presence of his life, though he fails to see any good in it). Then he meets up with the New York Times theater critic in a bar, and he's told by the old, withered, dried-up coont that no matter how good the play is, she will destroy it and piss all over it in her review just like the bitch she is. Her goal is to not only ruin Riggan, but also to let all the other washed-up Hollywood actors who think they can reinvent themselves on Broadway know that it's not their home, and that their desire to resurrect themselves in New York really just ends up taking valuable theater space away from REAL actors (at least in her mind). Then Riggan totally loses sight of what's actually happening around him when he vividly hallucinates Birdman trying once more to talk him into walking away from this fake theater life, and returning to movies in the form of a long awaited Birdman 4 (now with more CGI, explosions, robot birds, and destruction!!!)!
After almost jumping off a rooftop in the middle of his madness, Riggan then hallucinates that he flies back to the theater for the true debut of his play. The play is sold out, and everybody in the show nails their performances, but in the final scene (where Riggan's character usually pulls out a prop gun and blows up a juicy blood bag hidden in his cheezy wig to kill his on-stage persona), Riggan finishes everything up with a real gun and shoots himself in the head in front of the astonished and confused audience, who gives him a standing ovation as the bitchy critic gets up and leaves her seat without even clapping once.
This is where everything should have ended... Instead we get those flashes of comets and jellyfish from the beginning again, and soon find out that Riggan is now in a 20th story hospital room, having just blown his nose off during that last performance. His best friend and producer shows up, joyful that he's alive, happy that they're selling out tickets for the play into the far future, and ecstatic that the coonty critic actually gave the play a great review. Then Riggan and his daughter share a moment and seem to come to terms with each other, Riggan's ex-wife seems to want to make up with him, and everything has turned around in his life. Then Riggan walks to the window and jumps out, thinking he can fly. Then his daughter comes back in with a vase for the flowers she brought him, looks out the window at the ground, then up in the air at something and smiles. End scene.
I personally find that last bit in the hospital to be unnecessary and dumb. It's obviously just a hallucination as Riggan's life is passing before his eyes just as he blows his brains out on the stage. It added nothing to the movie other than trying to make it open for interpretation (did he hit the ground, did he really fly away?), but it's just not endearing. It makes it feel like it's trying too hard. The fact that everything that happens in the hospital room is so amazing and good and right, after everything went so, so wrong just minutes before makes it feel fake. This movie was so full of REAL frustration and agony up until this point. This fake goodness is just too much. If that's what the director was aiming for, then somebody should have just slapped him and told him to end it with the closing of the performance with the critic walking away from Riggan's on-stage suicide. That had gravitas!
And to those arguing "Well, he might have really flown away there in the end! And it was all real!" No. Did you just watch the last 2 hours of despondent and depressing movie that I did? Every time that Riggan used his "telekinesis" it was proven to be just his imagination. He didn't mentally hurl things at the wall, he smashed them with his fists. He didn't fly back to the theater, he took a cab. You, my friend (and I use that term loosely), are an idiot.
END OF SPOILERS
The story of Birdman was good, the characters (even though they were all messed up and all a bit ass-holic) were great, but the best part of the movie was the cinematography and the editing. Unless you know what you're looking for, it truly appears that there were no real cuts, and that everything was filmed in one giant take. The camera is ever-moving too, and there are some really cool, but subtle, special effects going on that heighten the intimacy of certain scenes. For example, several times the camera gets right behind somebody who's using a giant mirror, but there's no camera in the mirror at all. I can imagine how they did those scenes, but that doesn't make them any less impressive.
What did I like least about Birdman? Easy, the soundtrack. It outright SUCKS. It's about 90% just a jazzy snare-drum riff. It's annoying after only 5 minutes, and it continues until the very end. I like most jazz, but not when it's loud and in your FACE like it is in this movie. Then it's just distracting instead of cool or fun. Yeah, I get it, the fast-paced drumming and *TSH*ing of the cymbals represents Riggan's emotional state (or what's left of it as things continue), but they could have shown us this in a much more subtle way.
Just like I told my son after coming out of the theater, this Birdman movie is one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life. I am not talking about being disappointed with a movie, like when I finally got around to seeing that new Star Wars - Phantom Menace movie after waiting 16 years for it, no, I'm talking about a movie that almost caused mental retardation in my own brain from it being so bad.
I don't know how else to explain it to you except to say that I did not like any of the characters. They were all selfish and greedy, and sometimes just outright evil. I found that not only could I not root for any of them, but that I wanted them all to fail.
I'm sure some snobby film major who makes movies about flowers and vaginas will tell me that not every movie has to have likable characters, but I'm old, and I don't like wasting time with people or things I don't like. If you put me into a room with a bunch of rich stock brokers and lawyers who only talked about how they kicked their gardener into the mulch because they took an inch too much off the shrubbery, I'd have to fight with all my might not to punch them in their faces, and I'd leave that room as soon as I could. But here in this movie, the only reason I stayed until the end was that I was hoping for some sort of pay-off or redemption. The pay-off, from what I could tell, is that even though Michael Keaton was a selfish a-hole, and then tried to kill himself, he still got everything he wanted in the end and then was able to literally fly. That made me so angry. And yes, my son thinks that the last part of the movie was metaphorical, but I'm a literal person. If they show me a person flying in a movie, then they can fly. End of story.
I smell a lawsuit coming.
This is totally open and shut here. That fat hippo could win this case by only asking if the jury got that thing he sent them. Do not waste your money on this movie, thusly giving more funds to Mr. Keaton and company to counter my suit. Hopefully we'll just settle before our court date. Quite honestly I just need the money for my snickerdoodle addiction now.