Birdman is classified as a drama/comedy and while it certainly has it’s own dramatic flare, the comedy is seldom seen and when it does arrive in the occasional scene it either misses the mark or has a feeling of smugness surrounding it which, I suppose, is a good way to describe the film, smug.
Now, smugness in a film isn’t necessarily a bad quality it just needs to be pulled off correctly which it kind of is in ‘Birdman’.
Let me start by saying that I hated what the director chose to do with the camera and the editing. ‘Birdman’ is edited together to seem like it is one long shot, very much like a play which seems apt due to the subject matter of the film. I am a huge fan of long takes if they are done well (Cuarón and McQueen pull them off flawlessly) however it seems that the director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, is not comfortable with having the camera remain still for more than 10 seconds to the point where it becomes ridiculous and distracting and definitely pulled me out of the film often.
The real beauty of a long shot is that it not only shows that the director is extremely confident in their own abilities but also that they have confidence in the script, performances, director of photography, everyone on their crew as the director sits back and allows the scene to unfurl without much movement of the camera, if any, and it just sucks the viewer in and makes the scene feel infinitely more real. If you start moving the camera around, not stopping to allow the audience to take in the work on screen but instead be distracted by what is honestly, at times, shaky cam, Paul Greengrass style of film-making, then you lose some part of the magic.
The fact that the camera is always moving also means that there is very little opportunity, or even need for stunning cinematography, which is a shame as the scenes with excellent cinematography are excellent but again, due to the directing style, they disappear almost as quick as the appeared.
There are some comparisons that can be made between ‘Birdman’ and ‘Black Swan’ which I won’t go too deeply into as it suddenly steps into spoiler territory but while watching ‘Birdman’ play out, certain aspects were reminiscent of ‘Black Swan’ and that made me wish I was watching ‘Black Swan’ again instead which is never a good sign.
‘Birdman’, as a film is not great, it is however saved by the performances and it’s meta script. Michael Keaton is absolutely phenomenal as a washed up actor whose glory days were in the 90’s playing a superhero in Hollywood blockbusters and while being out of the limelight has affected him mentally, physically and monetarily, he still has ambition to complete his passion project. Keaton slides into the role perfectly and ridiculously comfortably for a role so…different than what he is used to. The fact that a lot of comparisons can be made between his own career and that of his characters only amplify the meta script and make it that much more enjoyable.
All the other actors were great, Emma Stone and Amy Ryan being the stand outs for me. Stone bringing a touch of drawn-out druggie combined with the slight feel of crazy exceptionally well and Ryan having the more down-to-earth part anchoring the performance of Keaton. The entire cast played their parts fantastically and I have no doubt in my mind that without this cast, the film wouldn’t have been half as good.
The soundtrack is also great and oddly fitting, a constant drum beat played at the perfect tempo just fit with the feeling of the film. So even though ‘Birdman’ has its problems, it also has its solutions in the performances, extremely meta script and its soundtrack.