Have you ever seen a film that is completely different from anything else you have ever seen before? I’m sure you have, films like The Tree of Life, Gravity, Babel, Pan’s Labyrinth etc. They all stick out thanks to fantastic direction and incredibly unique visual style. Most of these are dramas and thrillers, but there is a film that is very different from these, a dramatic comedy. Birdman really is out there and I mean that in the best possible way. This is one of the weirdest, the most original and one of the best comedies that there is to watch, and here’s why.
First of all, it is an entirely original screenplay with very serious and deep themes and metaphors being pushed around. Unlike most other comedy films, Birdman asks you to laugh, but also to openly think about the events on screen. Set in modern day New York, washed up superhero actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) attempts to restart his career by adapting a short story by Raymond Carver ‘What we talk about When we talk about Love’ for the stage. The struggles of people like his lawyer Jake (Zack Galifianakis), his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) fresh from rehab, a dickish method actor Mike (Edward Norton) and nervous cast members seem to make the production doomed. On top of that, he frequently has visions and conversations with his old superhero character Birdman telling him to return to the franchise that made him famous. What I love about this story is its originality; there is nothing else like this film. Closure, finding true purpose in life, the current state of superhero movies and whether or not this play will be any good, these are the questions you are asked to think about in this film, but at the same time, have such good fun.
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is the mastermind behind this picture and has given his first ever comedy is signature flare of mind trickery and attention grabbing drama. This is a very precise and well thought out film that frankly, I don’t think anyone is capable of doing or even thinking of doing. Believe or not, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu is one of my favourite directors because of his very clear and poised style of filmmaking and this is a testament to that. To further reinforce his brilliance, the acting in this is fantastic. Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and even Zack Galifianakis deliver their best performances that I have ever seen on screen. I sat there transfixed about what they were saying to each other; almost as though they were completely different people at one point. Basically, if you want to see good drama and comedy at the same time, look no further than Birdman.
Now at this point, you would expect me to explain that this is a low budget film focused on the acting and nothing else, but no. You see this actually more technical than you might think. There is a surprising amount of CGI in this film; the enemies of Birdman, flying around New York in Riggan’s visions, blood pouring from people’s heads and some brilliant practical effects, but those tie in with important plot developments, so I’ll leave those out. The point is, this film proves above all else, that you don’t need $100 million to give people thrills or humour, you need a good script and good actors and directors vision like Alejandro and just enough effects to make it seem interesting to action junkies.
The sound effects however are a little bit more relaxing than the CGI. You still big bangs and the occasional gunshot, but, the real genius in the sound design, is the way it feels like real life. Most of the sounds you will hear are of people talking to each other, laughter, crying, angry mad voices, much like being in a very populous city. And then there is the traffic, there isn’t that much jams or accidents than in most films, you hear the cars horns and rush of air as they go past, it is still a busy city, but all of the horrible sounds taken out of it, like it has changed its identity. It sounds and feels, very much like reality and doesn’t try to make it seem unbearable, it does the opposite, it gives you a perspective.
Birdman certainly has its own unique way of justifying the use of CGI and noise in film and the same with the music. As I mentioned when I reviewed The Revenant, the score in Birdman doesn’t propel the movie forward as much as you’d hope. However, after watching it again, I’d like to change that opinion. It does move the film, but very slowly. All the score is, is a complex drum beat with a very strange rhythm and when the film moves forward, the music should guide it through with some connection to the characters and events. With this, the music is more akin to the movement of life. It is random, sporadic and often unpredictable. It is clever, but it is hard to find any sort of feel to it. It may have connection to the themes, but not so to the audience.
The design of the whole film seems to break the established norm of the Hollywood dogma, but that is the point. It isn’t doing anything that came before it, it has its own identity and meanings, it is fiercely independent. I like that, and I also like the set design as well. Using a combination of different theatres is brilliant; you never get the impression you know exactly where and what studio it is. You can tell it has been very meticulously chosen and crafted; every corridor, lighting arrangement, doorway and even the colour scheme has been chosen to channel the cameraman around the entire complex with unbroken motion.
Speaking of which, the cinematography in this film is like nothing else. Emmanuel Lubezki, one of the all-time great cinematographers has structured this film with Alejandro to create one seamless, unbroken take. Throughout the entire film, the camera moves around into some of the tightest and beautifully coloured spaces of the set and it feels, alive. Source lighting, Steadicam shots, angles that go up, down, side to side without a single cut. Except, there are cuts, but you wouldn’t notice. Collaborator Stephen Mirrione, has edited it to make it look like one shot and it looks fantastic. There is a sense of mathematical formula to this and very emotional movement, you won’t find zoom lenses or studio lighting, what you find, is a sense of perfection.
It’s the same thing with the costume design. Riggan for example, looks rough and tattered, but not a survivalist, more like a bum in a high class environment. Then there is Mike; long coat, scarf, hat, a sense of incognito about him. Riggan’s daughter; even rougher, thin, modern tattered jeans, the stereotypical teenage junkie. It’s almost as though the costume and makeup department had one rule when designing outfits for the actors; they had to look like real people. Reality has been a constant theme in every aspect of this film and there is feeling in the back of your head that detects that. You know it is a fictional story, but it feels real.
Birdman is the sort of film that takes a look at modern filmmaking and moves away from it. It has its own ideas about what a film can be, not what it should be. Only Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu could’ve done this and thanks to a low budget, you have a good script and good acting as well and thanks to some of the best cinematography in film, you never really forget an experience like this.
I give this film a 9.5/10.