Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

If you believe in the multiversal interpretation of quantum mechanics, it's difficult to imagine there isn't an alternate world where this movie's title is Batman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) where Michael Keaton simply plays a fictionalized version of himself. Same goes for Edward Norton, who could easily be playing a character with his name and background. Both actors are phenomenal, as is the rest of the cast.

The movie feels like Being John Malkovich and Adaptation thrown into a blender alongside some experimental theater and a bottle of gin. The final result is quite good, and - despite feeling a lot like a Charlie Kaufman piece - still surprisingly fresh. It's probably the gin, to be honest.

The majority of the movie is designed to feel like a single take. Of course, we all know it isn't, so this turns into a game of "spot the cut", which does keep you at arm's length from the narrative, but that was probably intentional. The movie doesn't break the fourth wall, but it certainly puts some cracks in it. It seems to want you aware that it's a movie, and - I suspect - it wants you to be thinking about who's in the cast and why. The three most significant characters are played by actors who were formerly in superhero movies, after all, with two being recast and the third killed off earlier this year.

The movie's point is a little harder to pin down. It almost seems to be satirizing the New York theater scene, blockbuster superhero movies, actors, and critics simultaneously. The movie is surprisingly ruthless in this regard: none of the main characters are what I'd describe as particularly likable, though you absolutely want to see more of them. Still, it's not clear how seriously these critiques were intended. I left the theater entirely unsure whether the director loves or hates his industry and colleagues.

Theater plays a much larger part of the movie's story line than I'd expected: really, the Bird/Batman aspect is background to the production of a fake play based on a real short story (hence the Adaptation angle). The movie often lives on the line between the show and backstage and explores the relationship between truth and fiction.

That's all fine and good - one viewer's pretentious is another's profound, and Birdman earns both labels. It's a bizarre and surreal film, a quirky dark comedy that's unsettling and hilarious. It's worth your time if you're looking for something to see. For a twisted existential piece, it's a lot of fun.

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