I actually saw Birdman rather a long while ago, but this terrible, dismal, literally worst-ever winter has put me off most of my hobbies, writing included. How fitting, then, that I'm now reviewing a terrible, dismal film.
I don't mean quality wise. Even just speaking to the film's production values...wow, it's gorgeous and precariously well put together. Most of my friends were pretty conflicted about the plot and described it as being a little too dark and unforgivingly bleak, and they didn't care for it. But for me, it's fine. I have no issues with irredeemably feel-bad characters, plots, and outcomes in my entertainment. I don't think that dark films are necessarily more realistic, since life has its ups and downs and both of those are worth portraying in the stories we consume. But from my experience, life is just very likely to knock you down in unprecedented ways, sometimes more brutally than you were ever expecting. And that's essentially what Birdman is about, at its core, in addition to...well, everything else it's about. (Self perception, the value of 'high' art vs 'low' art, the inherent worth of artistic criticism vs artistic output, what it means to be successful, what it means to make performance a reflection of reality, the value of social media in fame, etc etc.)
And those things are all great. I don't think I need to explain why they're pretty cool; everyone knows. But everyone also probably wants to see Birdman because, deep down, as worthy as all those little interweaving messages and explorations of humanity may well be, they want to see Michael Keaton and his unfortunate cast subjected to humiliation after humiliation after humiliation. And the best part is...it's all pretty well deserved! Nothing's better than watching someone who's been kind of an asshole or otherwise weirdly self-obsessed taken down a peg. And Michael Keaton's character, Riggan, is more or less those things. On the surface, anyway. I don't feel as though he's truly a bad person or anything. He's just very maladjusted, kind of a fuck-up, and has unwarranted delusions of grandeur that frequently end up, as one would expect, crashing down all around him.
The crux of the film is that he is delusional. And not simply in the way that people often mean it, but also genuinely mentally ill. His decisions driven by this generally end up with his friends, family members, cast, and more often just himself as the unwitting victims of the universe's cruel, unyielding, often ironic attempt to destroy his production of "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." (Which Riggan believes will be just the thing to jettison his name out of pop culture obscurity, now that his career as the eponymous Birdman is behind him.)
It gets surprisingly dark as he deals with his daughter--a former addict--and his more grounded ex-wife, and the strangely dysfunctional cast he spends every day trying to work with. All before his work is destined to be praised (or eviscerated) by critics on opening night. It's surprising just how many things go awry in the series of rehearsals and previews leading up to this. Despite the fact that you don't necessarily want to encourage Riggan, it's difficult and brutally embarrassing to watch things fall apart in his life as he tries so hard to keep things together. Which makes the events of the opening night much more satisfying. Is his production a hit? Well, sort of... for all the wrong reasons. Oh well. That's the nature of art.