My review of the movie Birdman

Posted by on Feb 15, 2015 in Brian's Blog, Movies, Theatre | 0 comments

Forty-three of the 49 professional film critics featured on metacritic.com liked this movie. Four wrote mixed reviews. Two disliked it. I went to see it yesterday. I’m with the two naysayers. As Rex Reed of the New York Observer observed, it’s nothing but a load of codswallop. My words not his. Reed’s actual words were, “a miserable load of deranged, deluded crap masquerading as a black comedy.”

The critics who liked it said the movie is brilliant, inventive and funny. I found it dull, predictable and sour. It’s about a former Hollywood star (Michael Keaton) who lit up screens during the 1990s playing a comic-book superhero named Birdman. Now he hopes to earn the respect of critics and theatregoers with a Broadway production of a play based on a Raymond Carver short story. The Keaton character, who goes by the marquee-inducing name of Riggan Thomson, has written, co-produced, directed and is starring in the four-actor show. Egotism writ large.

Michael Keaton and his Birdman alter ego

Michael Keaton and his Birdman alter ego

Will the show bring Thomson the respect he craves? The odds seem to be against it. One of his fellow actors gets felled by a loose stage light just as the play is about to go into previews. The actor who replaces him (Edward Norton) is a well-known stage performer whose famous name promises to attract audiences but whose oversized ego – bigger even than Thomson’s – threatens to steal Thomson’s thunder. To make matters worse, the show is to be reviewed by a waspish New York Times critic (Lindsay Duncan) who doesn’t think there’s any place on the Broadway stage for a washed-out Hollywood celebrity. She vows to kill the production before she even sees it.

That gives you the gist. The story unfolds in what clever cinematography makes seem like one seamless, continuous take. This directorial gimmick, which has been used before, sent some critics into raptures. It made me wish the jerky, nonstop action would take a breather occasionally so we could get to know the characters better. As for the acting, if chewing the scenery appeals to you, you’ll get lots of it in this movie. Keaton does it whenever he’s alone in Thomson’s dressing room, and also on stage and elsewhere. That’s probably why he got the Oscar nomination. The Academy likes over-the-top. Keaton and Norton do it whenever they’re together in a scene, both on stage and off. Even the usually understated Emma Stone – as Keaton’s recovering drug-addict daughter – does it, in an overblown monologue where she complains about him once having been an absentee father whose biggest sin today is his failure to join the rest of the world on Twitter and Facebook.

There are four writers credited. They have produced a screenplay that’s more like a cobbled-together collection of disparate scenes than a cohesive whole. They also have singularly failed to find a way to make the naturalistic scenes mesh smoothly with the fantastical, where Thomson turns into Walter Mitty and flies over midtown Manhattan like the superhero he once played on screen. Perhaps the writers should have talked to the director of photography who created the much talked-about continuous take for this movie. He could have given them a few suggestions.

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Copyright 2015 Brian Brennan - Writer

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