The thing about the Oscars is that they aren’t based on what audiences liked. They aren’t even based on what critics liked. They’re based on what the film industry as represented by the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences liked.
And there’s not much that the Academy likes more than a navel-gazing look at their own industry, especially if it’s cynically critical. I predicted BOYHOOD would win Best Picture this year because of the unusual technical achievement, but in retrospect, BIRDMAN was not a surprise.
That said, I’m not entirely a fan. I don’t particularly like surrealism (I make an exception for Cirque du Soleil’s QUIDAM), and because we’re mostly seeing the film through Riggan’s fragmenting mind, this film lays on the surrealism pretty thickly.
There are aspects of the premise that I like, and I think the use of the Birdman character as a manifestation of the persistent nasty little voices in our heads is an interesting one. He is insidious. He will not be ignored or denied for very long, and he grows louder and more poisonous over the course of the film. Michael Keaton’s aging, increasingly irrelevant actor Riggan does not seem to be cognizant of the fact that he’s hallucinating.
I’m not sure how I feel about Keaton, either. I really enjoyed his “Fresh Air” interview about this film – he came off as soft-spoken, thoughtful, and generally rather pleasant. But I haven’t seen him as any character I actually liked. Riggan is selfish, and he’s unspooling at an alarming rate over the course of the film. Keaton’s Dogberry in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is a cartoon, grotesquely overblown, even for a Shakespearean clown.
One thing I’d like to bring up is the score which makes a choice that is especially notable in one scene backstage when Riggan is arguing with Birdman and ends up trashing his own dressing room in the process. It’s an interesting choice to have the music here be nothing more than a series of drumrolls and cymbal crashes, as though Riggan’s life is constantly on the point of just-before-the-curtain-opens.
It’s not a bad movie. I can see why it won. It’s just not my cup of tea.
Also, the Birdman costume is weird. I like the giant robo-bird in the hallucination, though.
Next Up: TBA