Worry not! This isn’t a movie review site!
But I finally saw Birdman, and I figured sharing a few quick opinions about it might clue you into my taste. Though I reserve the right to deny having ever written any of this.
Michael Keaton is a superb actor, a treasure of American cinema. I hope the success of Birdman means both (a) he gets more and better roles and (b) he takes those roles. Because Keaton strikes me as one of those actors who can keep Hollywood from plummteting, full bore and head first, into banality. Jack Nicholson’s one, but he’s mostly retired. Keaton looks like he could go forever. Let’s hope.
It’s pretty official, Emma Stone is one of my least favorite actors. This movie cemented that opinion, which has been percolating since I first saw her in Superbad. In this movie, Emma Stone just can’t keep up with the old pros, like watching a rookie CB trying to cover Dez Bryant. Emma would place 5th in a high-school speech-and-debate tournament with this performance.
But I shouldn’t pick on Emma, because I saw a lot of acting in this film. Which means: I was watching people act. Instead of getting swept away by the character, I was paying attention to how the actor was acting. The exceptions were Keaton, Naomi Watts, and most of what Edward Norton did.
The scoring of this film is perfect.
Overall, Birdman left me mild. In fact, on the drive home, I didn’t think of the movie at all. I remember when I first saw The Virgin Suicides (in the beautiful, cozy Dobie Theater, now extinct) I walked around the campus of UT-Austin in a daze, unable to do much but work out what I’d just seen. Seriously, I wandered all over campus, aimless, for half an hour. After Birdman, despite its clear artistic master-strokes, I was thinking about lots of things, none of them Birdman.
This script illustrates how difficult it is to nail both pathos and innovative narrative architecture. Which is just another way of saying, you gotta have heart! Film, because it’s really a synthesis of all sorts of skills and crafts, is a fun sandbox in which to experiment. But often, when films try technical and in-story experiments, the audience’s sympathy is sacrificed. Not always, but often.
Charlie Kaufman is good at achieving the balance. He wrote Adaptation, which made me cry while shoving typical film storytelling through a weird little kaleidescope. He wringed a lot of heart out of Being John Malkovich, too. But then, with Synchdoche, New York, he let the complexity of the format overwhelm the humans, and the movie suffered as a result.
Birdman is an excellent piece of cinema, and to watch it is to realize, in real time, what a feat it is to create a major film. But I didn’t much care if the protagonist won or lost.