Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Hey friends, welcome to another swinging night at the Tagline! Today I'm gonna be talking about Birdman, a movie that shockingly is not based on a Hanna Barbera cartoon. Is that disappointing now that I think about it? Well... maybe a little. At any rate, we're talking about Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a Hollywood Has-been who was best known for his portrayal of the superhero Birdman, in blockbuster films of days gone past (Michael Keaton in real life was, as you may all remember, the original Batman on the silver screen). In an attempt to make a comeback, Riggan is putting on an adaptation of Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and has invested essentially everything he has left in the effort. Also involved in the production are his girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough apparently destined to always be the other woman), first time broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) and through Lesley the eccentric and off the rails Mike (Edward Norton), who is a Broadway veteran that Riggan hopes will lend credibility to his show in the eyes of the critics. Also on the production are Riggan's lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) and Riggan's recovering addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone being as mean as she can be), Jake as production manager/Riggan handler and Sam as Riggan's assistant/surly daughter not doing much. That's the players assembled, and basically the movie centers around Riggan's attempts to prepare the show to open, leading up to its first full performance for the public.

This seems totally normal to me.
Of course, all is not well in paradise, given that nearly everyone involved is a borderline psychotic. Riggan in particular is a house of cards just waiting to fall into a heap on the ground. For starters, Riggan is tormented by the voice of Birdman, who harangues him for abandoning his roles in Hollywood, and constantly belittles him, and denigrates everyone and everything in Riggan's life. Riggan also perceives himself performing feats of levitation and telekinesis, but it is never entirely clear whether this is another delusion of his (of which he has many) or if he actually can do these things. For his part, Riggan considers resorting to those tricks (whether he can do them or not) as being a cheap way out, and so refuses to rely on them, instead believing that he can prove himself as a legitimate actor. Of course to elitist performers like Mike and critics like Tabitha Dickinson (who is apparently well regarded enough that she could kill a show with a single bad review) Riggan is a clown, and basically nothing he could do would persuade them otherwise. Meanwhile Riggan is trying to cope with his kind of whacko girlfriend, who may be pregnant (and who frankly he's a total dick to) his daughter teetering on the edge of relapse and meltdown herself, and of course Mike, who does his best to ensure every preview showing of the performance is a disaster in some way (he sexually assaults Lesley on stage during one scene, which I'd say is taking method acting a bit far).

It's all about sex appeal.
In the forefront of my mind, you have to appreciate the performances on hand in this film. Michael Keaton is brilliant even as his character is kind of 50/50 between loathsome and pathetic. Actually many of the characters have that going on, Edward Norton's character is aggressively unlikable but also kind of pitiful too. The whiff of desperation is detectable on basically everyone in the film, but then that's where a lot of the comedy value comes from (though there is still a dark streak to the whole proceedings) The ambient music track consists of a lot of jazz drumming but... I don't know if i was totally into that. I think it was really fitting for the movie though.

Who knows what really happened.
The way the movie was shot is one of the more interesting things about it. Whereas most movies are composed of many short shots, this one is almost entirely one uninterrupted shot, meaning that the cast spent a lot of time rehearsing so that they could perform through the scenes without cocking things up. The continual shot creates a kind of closeness for the viewer to the proceedings, and led to some really fascinating cinematography. I found it really refreshing and enjoyed the uninterrupted view of the proceedings it provided. It sort of suggested to me, along with the fact that the movie was about a Broadway performance, that the whole movie had a kind of theater quality to it, particularly because the movie was principally concerned with character study rather than plot. All in all the movie was excellent from beginning to end, and while it isn't the sort of movie you'd want to watch all the time, it's nice to watch a movie now and again that challenges the audience.

That's all for today! Join me again next week for more garbage probably.

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