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A Birdman On Stage

Updated on April 4, 2015

Riggan Thomson is a man looking for personal and professional redemption. He puts his stakes into a play in which he stars and deliberately chooses as in opposition to his best known work in Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance). Michael Keaton stars as Riggan, whose acting career hit a pinnacle years ago when he starred as a superhero in a trilogy of Birdman films. To show his dramatic talent, he has gone to New York to rehearse in and direct a drama that runs into an unexpected problems before opening night. A lighting accident forces Riggan and his producer, Jake (Zach Galifianakis), to quickly find a replacement. Fortunately, they get Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). a Broadway veteran who has worked with Lesley (Naomi Watts), an actress in the production, on her lines.

The odd activities and troubles don't end with Mike's hire, though. Riggan suspects that Mike drinks his way through rehearsals. Riggan's girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough), whom he has cast in a role, teases her man with a pregnancy announcement. His recovering addict daughter Sam (Emma Stone), whom he's hired as his personal assistant, has no faith in her father's efforts, dismissing him as a has been. His ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) visits to express concerns about the play's costs. The actor Mike replaces sues over his injury. Theater critic Tabitha Dickerson (Lindsay Duncan), following a preview, announces she has no intention of giving the show a good review. Through all this, Riggan starts to hear the voice and take on the qualities of his most famous character.

Birdman is a surrealistic look at fame and celebrity from director and co-writer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Riggan and his cast all have the ego and talent required to perform the play, but each has insecurity, especially as the problems keep happening. WIth all of his responsibilities, Riggan feels the jitters most of all. He's trying to put behind a character that became his defining moment as an actor, but Birdman lingers and sometimes disrupts. This is a bit lighter fare than Inarritu's previous films, like Amores Perros, 21 Grams, and Babel. I enjoy the lighter side of Inarritu, though he does get a little goofy sometimes. The cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki impresses, as he makes so much of the film seem like one continuous take. The drum score of Antonio Sanchez helps to set the film's pace and mood.

Keaton, who's better known for comedy than drama, leads a strong ensemble cast as the worried and excited Riggan. This performer clearly feels the pressure to make this play work. In his opening scene, Riggan meditates in the middle of his dressing room while levitating. He tries to attain some inner peace with his technique, but he keeps sensing the spirit of his greatest commercial success, which drives him - and weighs on him - in his theatrical endeavor. Galifianakis has a more current reputation for comedy with his oddball roles in The Hangover series and Due Date. As Jake, Galifianakis does a good about face from his better-known roles to play Riggan's good friend, lawyer, and financial advisor - and Riggan desperately needs him in all three capacities. Norton shines as the energetic Mike, who shows his temprament when Riggan thinks Mike's drinking might be an impediment during a show. Stone shines as well as the daughter who thinks her father's a failure while dealing with her own demons. Watts, Riseborough, Ryan and Duncan all do fine in smaller supporting roles.

All actors want to deliver a performance that soars, touches the emotions of those watching, or simply endears them to any audience. While some find that performance in a drama, Riggan Thomson learns again that he had given such a performance years ago when he donned a bird suit. The memories of that film franchise fill Riggan's head, for better and for worse, as he tries to soar one more time in Birdman. Whether he finds a virtue to his ignorance of stage work is left unanswered, but he'd like to bury any talk of making Birdman 4 once and for all.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) 3.5 stars. Fly, Riggan, fly!


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    • Stevennix2001 profile image

      Steven Escareno 3 years ago

      Great review. Probably the best one I read thus far

    • johndwilliams profile image

      johndwilliams 3 years ago from Essex England

      A good review thanks for sharing. I have actually began to watch this film and I do like the musical score as well as the almost-continuous-take feel that is created in the film.

      A good review!