"Birdman," Oscar winner for Best Picture, is a trippy play within a play, an ode to actors, acting and everything dramatic. Michael Keaton plays an actor past his prime who nailed the lucrative super-hero(?) "Birdman" franchise in his younger years. (The "Birdman"--ostensibly a man in a crow costume--continues to haunt and taunt his thoughts, even to the point of delusions of grandeur and hallucinations.) He is now trying to direct a Raymond Carver play and it's going very bumpily. Failure is always just around the corner. There are so many inside actor's jokes that we feel honored that we audience peons are assumed to be catching them.
At first, we're not sure what's the film, what's the play within the film, when the actors are acting and when they are talking about acting. It's great fun if you go with it. Actors are portrayed as incredibly fickle creatures who will do anything to get the part, to be seen. I was taught at UCLA that as writers we must "protect our star," that is, make sure they are seen, that they are in every scene, that they shine. In case we writers were not also thespian-types (I am not), we were told: "Acting is all about one thing: Look at me, look at me, look at me." Many want to be seen, but few can or want to act.
Actually, "Birdman" is more like a play than a film. There are several speeches crafted to be pivotal to the story, and feel like they were even crafted to be that "Oscar moment." The acting is quite energetic all around, and its vulgar moments are only humanly vulgar, not perverse. The music is a minimalistic, morose, mechanical grating underneath everything, and it totally works. The palate is dull, industrial colors as well. This is actually a "small" film that barely changes location from a single theater and its immediate environs. The camera itself wanders around after the actors like one of the cast.
Director Alejandro Innaritu (who also won an Oscar for Best Director for "Birdman") revealed that "Birdman" is all about "ego" in his acceptance speech. But without ego, what actor would ever attempt acting? This film is FOR actors (and writers) and those who love them. I'm OK with "Birdman" winning Best Picture (although a film like "Boyhood" would have been a worthy win also--except for its unravelled ending). Hollywood deserves a self-indulgent, self-referential film once in a while. The beauty of "Birdman" is that it's Hollywood NOT taking itself seriously. At all. If we love films, we need to at least care about the process, the inner guts and the human beings who bring us the show.
"All the world's a stage." When Ed Norton's character (one of the actors who's drinking too much as usual) breaks the fourth wall and starts ranting at the audience, they cheer, because we go to stories in order to feel something, something real. Ed Norton's character states that he can only be truthful on stage.
The Birdman's dialogues with Keaton were truly annoying and on the nose. Too bad they weren't more subtle. Even Emma Stone's speech to Keaton and Keaton's speech to his theater critic nemesis felt like something a non-writer could have written. Nothing artful there. Nothing "slant" (Emily Dickinson).
The supposedly unclear ending (it was clear to me) was going to be something totally different. Something awful. Something that Innaritu was even embarrassed about. Thank God it didn't go that way.
--The Raymond Carver play is: "What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love"--a revolutionary short story that is said to have changed the world of writing.
--Who knew actors were so full of self-doubt? (I'm serious.)
--"Birdman" just confirms why I would never want to be an actor: stress, tension, living on the edge, turmoil, DRAMA, stage fright, intoxicating substances, risking it all, humiliation, etc.
--Actors can just...ACT at the drop of a hat. (My actors friends do this as did Michael Keaton's character--even fooling a fellow actor.) IT'S WHAT THEY DO.
Very quotable film:
--"You confuse love with admiration."
--"Why don't I have any self-respect?" "Because you're an actress, honey."