Review: Birdman

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birdman posterBirdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, is a very special film. Infinitely creative and unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, you can bet it will be a major contender for Oscars and other awards. It’s certainly among my favorites of the year so far, thanks to its brazen freshness, and spectacular performances.

It’s the story of the tension-filled days prior to a play opening on Broadway, told mostly from the perspective of Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) whose main claim to fame came from starring in the title super hero roll of the Birdman series 25 years ago. In an effort to make a comeback and become relevant again, he has written, directed and is starring in a play based on a Raymond Carver novel, while all of Broadway, not to mention his family and friends, seem to be working against the former Hollywood star. Cutting prejudices and vanities abound.

So what makes this film such a standout? How about the fact that co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, Babel, Biutiful — thank heavens he’s lightened up) worked with cinematographer Emanuel Lubezki (Gravity) to cleverly shoot so that the entire film look like it was done in one take? Or that most of the soundtrack is a jazz drum solo? Both devices give the film an edgy, jittery, urgent feel, rather than a contrived one.

And then there are the performances–Michael Keaton, better than you’ve ever seen him, and Edward Norton, as the egotistical leading man, as you’ve always suspected he would be in person. The luminous Emma Stone plays Riggan’s rehabbed on the verge of relapsed daughter, Zack Galifianakas charms as his attorney/producer, Naomi Watts is the long suffering leading lady and I’m always thrilled to see Emmy winning Merit Weaver (Nurse Jackie) in anything she does.

Laughs and satire abound, if you’re quick enough to get them, but there’s also a good dose of poignancy as well. How can you not love a film with a line like, “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige”? Birdman will make you stretch for interpretation and meaning. But in my book, that’s a hallmark of an excellent film.

Rated R

1 Hour 59 Minutes

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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

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