Reviews For Friends #15: Birdman

Reviews for Friends 15: Birdman

Painfully self-aware

The very fact that Michael Keaton agreed to do this film was, for me, a reason to go and see it.

Birdman is the story of Riggan Thomson - a washed-up action movie actor who attempts to salvage his career by adapting a Raymond Carver play for New York’s St. James Theatre. The trouble is, Riggan’s subconscious appears to be occupied by Birdman - the superhero role that made him famous - ever a devil in his ear. This alter ego is at first only ever heard (in a deliciously tongue-in-cheek deep husk reminiscent of Keaton’s Batman). But as the film progresses, Birdman begins to manifest as the (literal) feathery albatross on Riggan’s shoulder, eventually leading him to self-destruction.

There is a good deal of cleverness to this film that did not pass me by. The constant jazz, fraught and pulsating. The humorous scenes - notably Keaton being caught out in his pants on Times Square - a good honest bit of farce that no-one can argue with.

But I found the cleverness quickly turned to a knowing indulgence that suffocated the promise this film offered. Whilst the cinematography was out of this world the parody was overwhelming, the story earth-shatteringly predictable. And with the inclusion of some seemingly pointless scenes making the film just that bit too long, in the end it was plain tiresome to watch.

It’s a shame as the concept - and Keaton’s depiction of it - is sensational. The realisation of Riggan’s alter-ego is (briefly) compelling and Keaton delivers a tense and emotionally intelligent performance, with shades of funniness that remind us of his tour de force as Beetlejuice. But the feathered super hero joke soon gets tired and is never really developed. Ed Norton is brilliant as the preening Mike, and the pair have an electric on screen chemistry. But the supporting cast of females are a bevy of ridiculous characters never followed through, or respected even. The relationship between Keaton, his daughter (Emma Stone), ex-wife (Amy Ryan) and current beau (Andrea Riseborough) is tortuously cliched. The female lead in Riggan’s production, Lesley (played by Naomi Watts), is disappointingly vacuous. What a waste of such a superb cast.

The daughter - the usual troubled youth, not long out of rehab (but not for anything too serious), desperate to come on to the one young(ish) male in the film. The ex-wife - apparently the only calm, rational character of this film, yet surely not so rational for enduring years of violence and adultery at the hands of her husband for whom she is somehow now able to share a blithely affectionate friendship with - towards the end of the film there are even hints that she may still be in love with him. And his current girlfriend-of-sorts is overcome mid-way through the story with a desire to get it on with fello actress Lesley. Hmmm.

Such lazy characterisation, a particularly excruciating attempt to shoe-horn in references to Twitter, and a really quite awful final scene made Birdman a black comedy that this viewer failed to find the humour in.


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