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There are many things that a human being can become addicted to; alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling hardly scratched the surface of an exceptionally long list. Arguably one of the most insidious addictions is being famous. Everyone dreams of it and Andy Warhol once noted that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame. In the past this need to be recognized and lauded drove many young men and women to cities like New York and Los Angeles to make their mark on stage or screen. The last couple decades though, new avenue were fame has been opened; reality television. Dear people who are going to humiliate themselves in public with untenable living arrangements or the ingestion of extremely unsavory things, did not only receive the cash remuneration offered as a prize but more importantly to most they become household names, at least for their 15 minutes. The people who have reached a certain level of recognition in your field is difficult for them to accept that everything in life progresses forward and what is new and wonderful today will be discarded tomorrow. The film under consideration here, ‘Birdman’, is a dark comedy that focuses on an actor who has been passed over our time and no longer the iconic figure that he once was. Underlying this movie is a real situation of a man undergoing the same stressors that ended tragically. George Reeves portrayed Superman In the 1952 television series but before receiving iconic role he had a career that included a featured role one of the great pieces of American cinema, ‘Gone with the Wind’. He was so typecast on the television series that he found it difficult to continue working. 1959 he was found dead apparently was self-inflicted gunshot. The situation of the protagonist in ‘Birdman’ is not all that different from the experience of Mr. Reeves. As you sit and watch this remarkable piece of fiction your mind always bring you back to how such circumstances has resulted in tragedy.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an actor. At least that’s the self-image she desperately clings to. It has been rather long period of time since anyone in the entertainment industry on among the audience escorted him in this capacity. At one time he was the leading man on the most famous and lucrative franchises in film; ‘Birdman’. Despite clinging desperately to the past, Riggan is forced to confront perfect that the only one who really recognizes his face now back at him in the bathroom mirror. For this film the audience is cast in the role of voyeur, privy to witnessing the psychological disintegration of this man who was once hailed as a movie star. Riggan is constantly tormented by the voice of Birdman assaulting his mind, criticizing and demeaning him. The dissolution of his grasp on reality is further demonstrated by his belief that he has psychokinesis is able to levitate objects.

A crucial development is utilized in order to concentrate the most significant people in Riggan’s life the way in one place. His best friend and lawyer, Jake (Zach Galifianakis) has undertaken producing Broadway play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver's short story ‘What We Talk about When We Talk about Love’. Riggan is certain that he can read his career by writing, directing and starring in this production. This could also help bolster his personal life since his girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough) star in it. The play will also be Broadway debut for actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). In the capacity of assistant is Riggan’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering drug addict. During a rehearsal a light falls on one of the actors, Ralph (Jeremy Shamos), which considering the general consensus is he was terrible in his role, the effect on the general production is minimal. Riggan is certain that it was his psychokinesis that caused the light to fall. Jake replaces the injured actor with a widely acclaimed stage actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton although he is extremely talented and popular actor, Mike is a ‘Method Actor’ to be rather difficult to work with. The level of his salary demands was not within the original budget so Zach finds himself having to mortgages home in order to bring Mike on board. Mike’s self-obsessed attitude alienates them everyone around. When the gin and in his glass is replaced with water he throws a tantrum. Later, during a sex scene in the play the temperamental star practically rapes Lesley.

The central theme of the movie does involve some universally relatable concepts particularly when a person’s future can no longer compare with his past. Elements of modern-day life are infused into the story in a neatly unnatural fashion. Disturbed by the site of Mike flirting with Sam, Riggan accidentally locked himself out of the theater, unfortunately while in his underwear. He is forced out onto the street conversing Times Square it is state of undress. The walk of shame is captured by the present cell phones and soon goes viral on the Internet. This does cause a bump in his popularity, albeit not the type he wanted. The separation from reality deepens as he has further conversations with his Birdman persona, complete with full costume. It becomes convinced that it is time to make another movie in the franchise. In some ways this echoes reality with the current propensity of actors who were action heroes in the younger day, returning to their franchises for yet another offering. This reflects actors such as Bruce Willis and Harrison Ford returning to their respective franchises. The major difference however is that both of these actors managed to gracefully move on to more age-appropriate roles in the interim.

This is the kind of movie that tagline, trailer or IMDb synopsis to do justice to. I freely admit that when I first read a description of this film I had my doubts as to how it would hold up. It has an eclectic cast with great dramatic actors such as Mr. Norton and Ms. Watts, but Emma Stone is best known roles and romantic comedies and most recently he rebooted franchises Spiderman. Of course Michael Keaton has excelled in virtually all genres from dramas that explore deep emotional conflict to silly but build on comedies. Considering he was once ‘Batman’, this may have afforded him some insight into the psychological state of his character. It didn’t take long while watching this film to realize that I was experiencing something special. The director and co-author of the screenplay, Alejandro González Ińárritu, has five Academy award nominations to his name for excellence in writing, direction and production. Three of those nominations have the potential to turning into taking home a golden statue next month when the 2015 Oscars are announced. He has already won the prestigious American Film Institute’s best picture award this movie. As previously mentioned the concept such as this could very easily go awry. And less competent hands it would certainly lack the drive and focus that Mr. Ińárritu has imparted into his work. Of all the things that could’ve gone wrong but this filmmaker has avoided is a selection of the genre. If it was done as a drama it most likely would have become entangled in its own character development and sunk under its own weight. By approaching it as a dark comedy, he gives the audience permission to laugh a man whose life is falling apart. He knows full well that much of that laughter will be to distance ourselves from successes and argue that never carried forward in our lives. From the high school quarterback who now manages his fall no more fast food franchise to a once promising mathematician who is now outpaced by people half his age, it is easy to relate to a man longing for the celebrity he once had.

Ms. Stone may have had a lot of light comedy on her resume but the performance she provides here is absolutely stunning. She imbues such emotional depth in her portrayal of Sam that recent there watching, striving to understand this young woman and what she’s been through in her life. Growing up in the shadow of a famous father only to watch his stardom plummeting to earth had to be a contributing factor to a substance abuse problem. There is a scene where she is telling her father off where Ms. Stone posting such an emotional depth that the audience is held in awe of its realism. There is a strong psychological component to this story particularly in the disintegration of the main character as he dissociates into his former successful persona. Still, the heart of this film is character driven as we watch the dynamics of relationships shift and reconfigure. Mike is a contrast character remains so self-absorbed as to be immune from any transition. The relationship between father and daughter is exceptionally strong one and vitally important to each of them. Sam has spent years watching her father in his downward spiral and now that she’s trying to work her recovery to drugs she continues to be pulled back to them as evidenced by her and she is court smoking a joint. It may lose out on receiving top honors at the Academy award ceremonies but it’s not for lack of merit, ingenuity or emotional depth. It is just that this is a very tough year for motion picture does fully distinguish itself. It’s stiff competition this time around with such emotional powerhouses as ‘American Sniper’ and ‘the Theory of Everything’.

Posted 02/11/2015

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