Birdman ~ A Capsule Movie Review


Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp 

An aging, has-been movie star named Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton), whose greatest glory was playing a “Birdman” character on the screen, tries to show the world twenty years later that he is still “relevant” and an actor of substance by writing, directing, and starring in an unlikely stage adaptation on Broadway of a play based on the works of writer Raymond Carver. That’s the premise of the movie with the unwieldy title Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). 

Right away, Riggan Thomson is beset with problems, as you might expect. His lead actor is injured when a light falls on his head, so he brings in a replacement named Mike (Edward Norton), a prima donna to whom nothing is real except acting. (When he has to remove his clothes for a wardrobe fitting, he isn’t wearing any underwear.) Riggan has a pothead daughter named Sam (Emma Stone) who resents him because he was never around when she was growing up. Sam, who works as a sort of stage assistant, is drawn to the unappealing Mike for some reason, even though she is about half his age. Mike, we learn, suffers from sexual dysfunction, as attested to by his girlfriend, Lesley (the ubiquitous Naomi Watts), who is a cast member in the play.

Riggan has invested all his money in the play, so if it fails he is financially ruined, not to mention what it will do to his prestige. He desperately needs to make it work, and we feel his desperation. Compounding his problems are an ex-wife who shows up every now and then, a might-be-pregnant girlfriend, a nagging lawyer trying to keep him on track, and a vengeful (and apparently powerful) female critic who tells Riggan she will “ruin” his play with a terrible review (even before seeing it) because she hates him and all he represents. (Riggan’s confrontation with the critic in a bar is a high point.) 

Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is unusual in its execution and subject matter. (For one thing, it’s set almost entirely in a New York theatre. For another thing, Riggan levitates in his underpants and can make things move at will—I’m not sure what that is all about.) It’s the kind of movie that critics love because it pushes the boundaries of “art.” (The music score, except for some well-known excepts from classical pieces, is almost entirely composed of rifts on drums.) For regular moviegoers who are not critics, it’s either going to be a boring, pretentious blabfest or the best movie of the year. Maybe somewhere in between. Watch as it wins tons of awards for acting and writing.

Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp

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