tek's rating: ¾

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (R)
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This came out in 2014, but I didn't see it until 2018. Based on things I had read about it when it was released, I expected I'd put my review in the "weird" category. But when I finally watched it, several other possibilities occurred to me, including "drama", "serio-comedy", "mental health", and "quirky"; but ultimately I decided on "art". (Wikipedia also mentions "magical realism," and while I don't have that as a movie category in my reviews section, I'd definitely say that's a good fit, too.) The movie did very well, critically, and I can certainly see why, though I'm sure a lot of the themes and symbolism went over my head. It's still a great movie, though.

So... Michael Keaton plays an actor named Riggan Thomson, who is famous for having played a superhero called Birdman in the 1990s. (This is kind of meta, since Keaton himself is famous for having played Batman, though I think Riggan's career floundered after his franchise ended, whereas as far as I know, Keaton continued working pretty consistently after the "Batman" movies. On an unrelated note, ever since "Birdman" came out, every time I think of the title, I imagine it said like this. Though I'm fairly sure the Birdman in this movie is unrelated.) Anyway... in the present, Riggan is preparing to stage a Broadway play he has written, adapting Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" (which I've never read and know nothing about). He's also directing and starring in the play, and if it's not successful, I guess that will be the end of his career, and he could be financially ruined. But more than that, he sees it as his last chance to be taken seriously as an actor, instead of just a Hollywood celebrity. (In particular, there's a theatre critic named Tabitha Dickinson, who admits she plans to give the play a terrible review before she's even seen it, because she basically hates Hollywood and doesn't consider what movie stars do "acting," and... well, she says a bunch of stuff that seemed terribly snobbish and petty.) Meanwhile, there are numerous indications throughout the movie that Riggan is losing his mind. Partly that's because he occasionally hears the voice of Birdman in his head, mocking him for what he's trying to do with this play. (Keaton does Birdman's voice, which is low and gravelly, like Batman's. Though it reminded me of The Maxx's inner monologues.) Another oddity is that sometimes when Riggan is alone, he seems to have telekinetic powers, though it's unclear whether we're meant to believe that's real or just in his mind. Either way, Riggan himself seems to believe it's real.

Shortly before the first preview performance of the play, one of the actors has an accident on stage, sustaining an injury that will prevent him from performing. However, Riggan never thought he was any good, anyway, so he's not too disappointed... aside from the pressure of needing to find a replacement. (An understudy is mentioned, but I don't think we ever saw him, and Riggan didn't want to let him handle the role, either.) But one of the actresses in the play, Lesley Truman (Naomi Watts) is dating a famous Broadway actor named Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), and she gets him to take on the role. This is apparently great news, because his presence in the cast will help sell tickets. But it doesn't take long before he starts causing problems, and friction develops between him and Riggan. It also doesn't take long for him to upset Lesley enough that she ends their relationship. Meanwhile, Riggan's daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) is Riggan's assistant. She's a recovering addict, and she resents Riggan not being around much when she was growing up. And she ends up becoming friendly with Mike.

Let's see, I guess there are other characters I need to mention. Riggan is divorced from Sam's mother, Sylvia, but we see her a few times throughout the movie. He's currently dating another of the actresses in the play, Laura Aulburn. And Riggan's best friend, Jake (Zach Galifianakis), is also his lawyer and the play's producer. (He does a lot of work trying to secure finances, and keep things running smoothly, so he's pretty stressed out.) And I think... that's everyone of great importance.

So, um... I don't want to reveal any more of the plot. I'll just say I thought the movie seemed to me a lot like a play, itself. And the play within the movie paralleled Riggan's real life. And it was interesting that they sometimes mentioned real world superhero movies like "Iron Man" and "The Avengers." And the characters were certainly interesting and complex, and well-played. And the special effects were good. And I liked the ambiguities about whether or not some of the things Riggan perceived himself doing were actually happening. (There was one scene that seemed to indicate what he thought he'd just done definitely hadn't happened, and another scene that seemed to indicate he probably was doing something impossible. But... it all remains uncertain.) And hopefully I'm not forgetting anything else I wanted to say.


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