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Movie review: Birdman

Roslyn Hull

A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego, his melancholia and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.” imdb

Awards season is well underway in the USA with the Golden Globes lobbing into play this week. Birdman was nominated in seven categories and won in two – Best Screenplay and Best Actor in a comedy or musical. The noms for the Oscars aren’t out yet but Birdman has also been nominated for 10 BAFTAs and four SAGs. It was the final film Margaret and David reviewed on The Movie Show at the end of their 28-year run and they both gave it five stars.


So you don’t need me to tell you it is one of the must-see films of this year.

But I will anyway.

It is an astounding film written and directed by the talented (and just possibly crazy) Alejandro G. Iñárritu and a largely Mexican team of writers, composers and cinematographers. It is disconcerting to watch and thought provoking for da-ays afterwards.

It is Jack Kerouac and the Beat Poets meets Roman Polanski, or maybe Sunset Boulevard for the social media crowd. And it is so much more than just the story of a vain actor putting on a show. Through almost every scene we watch Keaton’s internal struggle writ large on his face. Tiny triumphs, bitter disappointment, fatherly love and despair are instantly recognizable there – all to the beat of the city, a jazz soundtrack that is at times discordant but always insistent.

I think I have just about decided that, like many of the best Latin films, it is allegorical. I am pretty sure Keaton’s washed up actor cannot actually levitate or smash things with just his mind … but then again. We are left to make up our own minds.

The same is true of the final scenes and the ending. If, once you see it, you have an irresistible urge to sit in a dark coffee shop and discuss what it all meant, the meaning of life, maybe the meaning of your life – call me, I’m up for it.

The supporting cast are astounding – Zack Galifianakis is sincere as the manager and best friend who may have a breakdown before the star, Emma Stone is spot as the druggie daughter, as is Naomi Watts as the desperate actress. Edward Norton is exhausting to watch – his wunderkind (idiot savant?) actor looked to me like a screen actor’s triumphant dig at the the-ator actors who take their ‘craft’ seriously.

Even though this is billed as a black comedy, the bulk of the humour comes from Norton and not Keaton (fairly big role reversal there). And I think it is more allegory and parody than comedy. Could I call it a ‘black’ comedy? If by black you mean the inside of an airtight cupboard in a house with no lights and heavy curtains on the darkest, most moonless night ever? Then, yes.

It is discomforting to watch, I could still hear the drum kit that magically appears in odd places long after the credits had rolled and I could smell the ego-driven fear of the actors.

The director wanted to give the audience a sense of urgency, anxiety – even desperation – so he has also cut the film together to look like one continuous shot. We track through the seemingly endless backstage corridors of a theatre, up winding stairs and out on to the roof, along streets and into bars. In New York but not exactly New York – audience members and Shakespeare spouting bums on the street seem to be involved in Keaton’s life as much as he is. Is it all a nightmare?

The most talked about scene, where Keaton gets locked out of the theatre and does a Y-fronts only dash through Times Square is certainly the stuff of everybody’s nightmares but most especially dreadful for a Hollywood star obsessed with his standing and being taken seriously as an actor.

Which contrasts beautifully with the scene where he gives in to his insistent alter ego and lets the superhero movie clichés fly. It is as if he becomes taller and more powerful, finding a sort of self-involved peace before tackling his play again.

Really, truly worth seeing but don’t expect a comfy night at the flicks.


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

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