Monday, January 26, 2015

Birdman

2014, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, Biutiful) -- cinema

Really? This is his only film since Biutiful ? I am surprised because that Javier Bardem movie was a solid, if not widely seen, followup to Babel. I guess I cannot fault the man for taking his time between movies, but I am surprised the machine would allow him to. Perhaps he is successfully working outside the machine? This movie proves he definitely has an opinion about said machine.

Birdman is a wonderful, eclectic, intricate view of being relevant, whether you need to be and what it means to not be. Michael Keaton, who I was surprised was not providing some auto-biographical writing to the movie, plays Riggan Thomson, the well known star of a superhero franchise called Birdman. He gave up the series after movie 3, but they are still the only thing people know him for. Insert long drawn out comparison between Keaton as Batman to Riggan and Birdman. Drawing those lines is easy, but the relevance he feels is much more pronounced. It doesn't help that the voice of Birdman is in Riggan's head, all gravel and cigarette smoke.

Iñárritu does his best Alfonso Cuarón imitation, building long running, almost seamless single camera shots. Black spots, shadows and swinging doors allow us to jump from key points to key points, letting the camera stop following one person and on to another. The scenes are lovely, focused on walking, ever forward with dialogue often being dragged along.

Edward Norton is the self-considered relevant actor who provides much of that introspective dialogue, counter spinning Keaton's banality. He hates Hollywood, hates Thomson's popularity, screaming "This is my town!" while not being recognized by a single person on the street.  Emma Stone is Sam, the neglected daughter seeking yet denying her father's attentions not hearing herself saying out loud that the only bad thing he really did was not be there and spending her entire life trying to tell her she is special. And there are the actresses (!!) and the frazzled producer; Zach Galifianakis playing wonderfully against character. Everyone is hinged on Riggan's production of a play, for one reason or another. But none so much as Riggan himself, desperate to tell the world and himself, he is a relevant actor, not just a washed up celebrity.

Is Riggan relevant? Should he go back to doing billion dollar box office sequels? Should he persevere through this small play in a small theatre to impress, really, no one but himself? Definitely not the critic who has decided to hatchet his play without seeing it. She hates Hollywood dunked in her small Broadway theatre. Should he try and be more relevant, more Twitter or more YouTube? And in the end, what does any of it matter? Without trying he gets the video, the Twitter trending, but doesn't even notice this relevance.

We all struggle with a certain amount of relevance in our lives. Are we relevant at work, at home, to the people who read out Facebook feed, to our peers in our social circle, to our peers in our career path, to our city, country or world at large? Have we done something that matters, will we be remembered for that video that got 300,000 hits or the painting we showed at the local gallery or the one book we published or the promotion we got at work or ... or ... or. The movie doesn't make the decision for us, but offers countless kernels of truth. Everyone has a point but no one's, not even the loud voice in Riggan's head, is the one certain truth.

In the end, this states one clear truthful thing. Anyone has the ability to be relevant, to someone, at some time or another. Make the most of it. Or ignore it and move on.