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Birdman (2014) simply soars

Birdman movie review
Photo Credit: Birdman / Fox Searchlight Pictures
Is it the act of creation that gives us fulfillment, of living in the moment, or how big of an audience we reach? Questions like this not only taunt artists but everyone to a certain extent. In such a media-based world, it's easy to wonder, obsess, or curiously peek into what is said of "the thing". So often we cross a line over living in the constant comparison of high notes to our accomplishments, the success of others, and past pinnacles of success held up by generational prestige. We all get lost in expectation and admiration. The whole world is striving to be relevant yet can't shake the state of mind that constantly questions how and which ways we truly matter.

Best known for having starred in a fictitious Birdman franchise, Riggan Thompson's career (Michael Keaton) and his personal life has fallen into shambles. Trying to matter again, he is directing, starring, and producing in his own Broadway show that he has adapted. The production of his play grows more dangerous and weak as he tries to shed a two-decade old alter-ego that claws at his self worth.

Every character in Birdman battles the big question mark of when they have finally "made it". Thompson's daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone) is a recovering addict whose disinterested attitude shadows a lack of validation she never received from her father. World renown actor Mike (Edward Norton) only finds the truth of a moment when he is on stage, and elsewhere, his life is uncontrollable.

Through Thompson and his supporting players, Birdman touches on so many themes, mostly related to creativity, ego, and the medium of film. Actors are sucked into the Hollywood machine of the superhero genre and are considered wasting their talent. Actors who try their hand at theatre are overlooked for their fame because they don't understand "the craft". Critics label and bastardize those who do what they cannot. It also satirizes that inner voice that beats us down and also drives us our ambition. We never really know when we have finally made it, and instead of that weighing us down, Birdman helps us surrender.

It's really no secret why Alejandro González Iñárritu's film took the reigns of the Academy Award season for 2015. The camera seamlessly moves in one long take similarly emulating how life is constantly moving, transitioning from moment to moment; always active, alert, and rarely missing a beat. Yet in little spaces of the production, like how we pocket our thoughts and experiences on our electronic devices or packed away in dusty, forgotten memories, the camera may pause for a second for the characters or scenes to take a breather. It's not overwhelming, begging for attention or used as mere decoration.

What the film does so flabbergastingly well is how seamlessly everything is part of the whole. For such probing themes, the film balances between drama and comedy but never vilely takes jabs at anyone, especially Thompson. The cast itself is truly exemplary from from the main award show frontrunners like Keaton, Norton, and Stone to Naomi Watts, Zach Galifinakis, and Andrea Riseborough. Each one gives a performance that are complex portrayals of people who are so strongly trying to be validated but remain so inherently frail. So much of the atmosphere, performances, and script is vivid, animated, and it challenges you to keep up.

Essentially, nothing about what I can say about the film, or any film, can ever really summarize the film itself. It's hard knocks to praise only one individual aspect of it. I'll admit that heavy philosophy and symbolism can feel redundant since many films in the recent past have hit on fame or living up to dual identities as brought on by the struggle of being talented or not feeling enough. Birdman's attachment towards ego, identity, critics, and audience, breaks down that repetitive conversation by not letting the subject matter becoming a downer, or trying too hard to be intellectually stimulating and massively appealing/entertaining. It hits all the right production, intellectual, and emotional notes. Birdman simply soars.

Rating: ★★★
Have you seen Birdman? What did you think?

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