Egos Collide On Broadway


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


             Birdman aims high and gets there. Itís easy to explain the plot in a few short sentences, far harder to describe the mood created by director (and writer of the screenplay) Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
            The easy part: in his long ago past, Riggan (Michael Keaton) played the lead in three Birdman movies that left him marked as a comic book hero. Years later Ė balding and bewigged in middle age - he is financing, directing and starring in a Broadway play. The hard part: what is Riggan trying to do? To reclaim the man he thinks he is? To prove to the world who he actually is? To taste fame in this era of celebrity? The answers that come are visceral and raw.
            Director Inarritu has asked his actors to film the story in a nearly uninterrupted timeline. We are watching Riggan direct and act in audience previews of his play with co-stars Mike (Edward Norton) and Leslie (Naomi Watts). At the same time, we are watching him backstage in real time as he interacts with manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis), his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), his sometime wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), and sometime girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough). Each of these actors has at least one strong scene with Riggan.
            The onstage play is nearly incidental to the raw politics that unfold offstage - and yet, of course, it isnít incidental because each of the players steps repeatedly and suddenly from his actual identity into his role in the play. Are you confused yet?
            We follow the performers in their real and pretend lives as the camera leads us in unbroken time through the theater, backstage, onstage, and outside the St. James Theater on West 44th Street while we are trying to sort the relationships. Given these personalities, that is no easy task.
            Michael Keaton, whose own life story is reflected in the film, creates Riggan as a man possessed in his determination to make the play restore his dignity. You may not like him much, but you wonít stop trying to figure him out. Edward Nortonís Mike is arrogant in his success as an actor who hurts people as he strengthens the play. In a firecracker of a scene, Emma Stone throws her fatherís life in his face. All of them inject their characters with the theory that bad tempered drama off stage can provoke desirable intensity onstage.
            Meanwhile, we are happily submerged in the commotion of the creation of a Broadway play, caught in the sudden switch from personal politics to performance. Egos are rampant - switched on, off, or transferred from dressing rooms and hallways to the stage. Who are these people to each other? We learn a little about that, but the fun lies in the experience of watching the creation of a play with a new sense of the drama that exists within the cast. An exceptionally clever film has given us an insiderís feeling of ďSo thatís what itís likeÖ.Ē


Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : Birdman
Word count : 501
Distributor : Fox Searchlight Pictures
Running time : 1:59
Rating : R


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