Last year at the Downingtown Library we did our first annual Oscars Preview, which involved a good amount of refreshments plus watching trailers of all (most) of the nominated movies, and discussing them, yours truly was the M.C. At the end of the night we all voted on each category, and whoever picked the most winners (not yours truly) got a bottle of wine and some other goodies. Based on the trailers I picked this one, not because I thought it would win but because it was the one that seemed the most intriguing. I was pretty surprised that it won. I was even more surprised it won after I saw it.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie. I’m just surprised that a lot of other people thought so as well. It’s different, it is not a typical movie, very arty (almost to the point of avant-garde), very black comedy, obviously right up my ally.
The film is about an older somewhat warn out and down on his luck actor who was known for playing a superhero (Birdman, not related to Harvey Birdman as far as I can tell), who is producing, directing and starring in a stage adaptation of the Raymond Carver story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” At the onset of the movie I had Raymond Carver confused with Raymond Chandler and thought that the scenes they were doing did not feel anything like Chandler (who was primarily a mystery writer). But when Edward Norton during one of his drunken rampages in the film said “Carver left a piece of his liver on every page he wrote” I began to think to myself, that doesn’t sound right, then I realized who the author in question was.
I’ve read two stories of Carver before seeing this movie: “A Small Good Thing” in a college class on literature and “Where I’m Calling From” twice from Best American Short Stories of the Century. Both stories were quite good and very heavy, especially the first. Before doing a review of Birdman I thought I should give “What We Talk About…” a read, and I did. The story is pretty good, but I’m not sure how it connected with the play they were preforming in the film, the scene where they are sitting around the kitchen table drinking gin and discussing love is the story. the monologue where Keaton is discussing a married couple that were dying of heartbreak because they couldn’t see each other due to their full body casts was in the story, but told from Norton’s character. The scene where the woman talks about having an abortion in front of some dancing reindeer was not in that story, nor was the climactic infidelity seen. They may have been in other stories from the collection, I’m not sure, I only read the one.
There is a heavy amount of Meta in the film, which is to be expected in a film about a play, but it even goes a little deeper than that. Keaton’s Character is an older man who is best known for his role in a superhero movie, in real life Keaton is himself an older man who is also known (though perhaps not best) for his role as the superhero Batman. One friend of mine told me that he didn’t look to good in this movie, but I argued that he looked better in this movie then he did in the only Keaton movie I own “Beetlejuice.” There is even a scene in the movie where Keaton directly states that the play he is doing is somehow parodying his own life, and the problems they are having in the production are somehow a mirror image of his own personal problems. It’s a little too direct when you think about it, but it still seems to work in this movie.
There are however two problems that I do have.
There is one thing in the play that I really wish wasn’t there. Keaton tells Norton a story about how Carver saw him preform when he was a teenager and wrote a note to him on how much he enjoyed the production on a bar napkin and gave it to Keaton, and this incident is why Keaton decided to be an actor. Later in the film Keaton tried to relate this same story to a prominent theater critic who tells him that she does not care and that she is going to destroy the play in her review, despite that she hasn’t seen any of it yet. Depressed Keaton finishes her drink, put’s the empty glass on the Carver napkin and leaves the bar. It’s too real, too heavy and too sad. This is a heavy movie despite being a black comedy, but I think the film could have done better had it not been included.
The other problem is a weird personal thing with me. As you can see from the head page of my Blog, my name is Zach. For some strange reasons I have this sort of natural dislike of anyone named Zach (regardless of how it’s spelled) I actually met a kid a couple of months ago also named Zach, who I liked and I told him that I usually don’t like people named Zach and he told me that he felt the same way. When I was telling my aunt about this anomaly I added “I probably wouldn’t like myself if I knew who I was.” Think about that line for a moment, it’s pretty layered, less crazy then it sounds the first time you read it. Of course my name probably should have been Josh, but that’s another story. Anyways you probably see where I’m going with this, I was hesitant to watch the movie because of Zach Galifianakis. I won’t say that he was good in the movie or an important contributor to it, but he didn’t take away from it too much (unlike Zach Snyder’s abysmal “Suckerpunch”).
What the director was going for in the movie was hyper-realism, this term is even used near the end of the movie which again could be seen another faux pas (the equivalent of using the word “Postmodern” in a postmodern story), but in something dealing this heavily in meta you almost have to give these clues otherwise it will be completely missed by the average viewer. The hyper-realism is achieved with the liberal use of the handheld camera, it gives you the feeling that you are not watching a movie, but part of it. It would be an interesting experiment to watch this movie while standing, it might make it that much realer, of course at the end of a long day who wants to stand and watch a 119 minute movie?
The question on everyone’s mind after they’ve seen the movie is (and this might give some important stuff away so Spoiler Alert) did Keaton actually have superpowers? I’m going to cheat and say yes and no. there are enough clues throughout the movie to indicate that he didn’t, that when he uses his telekinesis to destroy is dressing room it was either through his own hands or didn’t happen at all. As we see at the end of the flying segment (a beautiful sequence I might at) a cab driver comes running out to him demanding his fair. However the last scene when his daughter looks up in the air, we are to infer that he is actually flying this time. However this does not negate the earlier indication that he did not have super powers because there are ample clues that he did not. You see what I mean by a complex movie?
To summarize: very good movie, diffidently worth the watch. This year the same Director Alejandro G. Inarritu is up for “The Revenant” I won’t be watching it however, it looks way to violent for what I can handle these days, despite that I live Leonardo DiCaprio and was very impressed with Inarritu in this film. Personally my vote will be for… well that’s a pretty tough call, I don’t really want to even see any of the movies nominated for best picture.