Performance Anxiety

Birdman

Or

The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

birdman_ver3

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis, Lindsay Duncan

Mexican film director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu whose previous films include the critically acclaimed Babel, Buitiful and 21 Grams, delivers another cinematic magic realist masterpiece in the electrifying film Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance about the crazy antics which occur backstage on a Broadway production of a play adapted from a Raymond Carver story.

Birdman is comical, fantastical and brilliantly acted by a great ensemble cast but particularly by Michael Keaton as the central character Riggan, a washed up 1990’s superhero film star who is desperate to revive his acting career on Broadway.

Michael Keaton delivers a crackling performance as the erratic Riggan, an aging actor on the verge of a nervous breakdown, whose alter ego the superhero film character Birdman keeps whispering in his ear that he should not be taking to the stage but rather resuscitating his failed film career. Riggan also seems to be constantly hounded by a multitude of neurotic woman throughout the film which feeds his own performance anxiety.

Joining the energetic Keaton who just won the 2015 Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy is an impressive ensemble cast including the hugely underrated Edward Norton as Mike Shiner a younger more precocious actor, Emma Stone as Riggan’s snappy daughter Sam, Andrea Riseborough as Riggan’s neurotic girlfriend Laura, Amy Ryan as Riggan’s ex-wife and stabilizing influence on his life, Sylvia. The Hangover star Zach Galifianakis as the exasperated bearded theatre producer Jake and Naomi Watts as a drama queen Lesley.

birdman

What makes Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance so utterly absorbing and in parts quite delirious is that Inarritu chooses to film the entire movie as one long tracking shot which keeps the momentum of this frenetic story alive and fresh. Besides the extraordinary direction, a very witty script, there is of course the superb performances by the entire cast who really excelled in a very difficult and strenuous acting stretch reminiscent of Luigi Pirandello’s play Six Characters In Search of an Author with a massive dash of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Magic Realism thrown in.

Visual clues abound along with multiple references to the 21st century super saturated media world of the 21st century. In one of the best scenes of the film Sam (superbly played by Emma Stone) tells her father Riggan that he has lost touch with the world, he does not even have a Facebook Page or a Twitter account and is rarely on social media. As Birdman progresses and in a hilarious sequence with Riggan running through New York’s Times Square dressed only in white underpants, which is naturally captured on YouTube, his digital success changes instantly.

Then after a near meltdown with a bottle of Whisky and after Riggan tells the influential theatre critic Tabitha (a superb cameo by Lindsay Duncan) that he should be taken seriously as a stage actor, the opening night of the play arrives and no one can anticipate the final reaction or the review in the New York Times theatre page entitled The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.

For anyone that has studied drama or been in a stage production, Birdman is a must see film, as Inarritu expertly captures the confidence, chaos and utter lack of self-consciousness of the wild and crazy cast of this production, as they strip for scene changes, fight with their fellow actors and generally are quite debauched in all sorts of ways unique to the Theatre world.

Birdman imaginatively emphasizes that despite all the social media around especially in 21st century contemporary America, there is nothing quite as exciting as Live Theatre.

Keaton, Norton and Stone are absolutely superb and this film is highly recommended viewing, worthy of all the attention it is currently receiving, much like what every actor in the world constantly craves: rave reviews and becoming a celebrity!

 

 

 

 

 

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