I’m going to go ahead and assume you are not a film critic. I mean, in a sense, we all are when we tell our friends we cried at the end of Fast and Furious 18 or were disappointed by the Hobbit trilogy, but I’m going to make a leap and assume, by the strictest definition, you are not a film critic. I wouldn’t really classify myself as one either, but, once a week, I am supposed to post a review of a movie to this grand publication you are reading, so I guess I kind of am.
Not being a film critic, you don’t know what it’s like to write reviews for films, so let me break it down for you. Sometimes, this critiquing thing is easy. Throw me a piece of trash like Ouija and I’ll pound out 600 words like nobody’s business. Other times, I choose to watch a film like Birdman, which I truly enjoy but then cannot figure out what the hell to write about it.
But I’ll give it the ol’ college try anyways. This year’s winner for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Birdman features washed-up superhero actor Michael Keaton playing washed-up superhero actor Riggan Thomson, who is trying to get his career back off the ground by putting on a stage adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. Surrounding him are a notoriously egotistic and devoted co-star (Edward Norton), a daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone), a new actress ready to impress (Naomi Watts), and an agent trying to keep everything from falling apart (Zach Galifianakis). It’s directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu (Babel, Amores Perros) and made to look like one unbroken two-hour-long shot.
I loved Birdman. It deftly manages to be both funny and dramatic. It’s artsy but not cloying and overdone. It features brilliant performances by every single member of its cast (seriously, why can’t Edward Norton be in every movie ever made?). Its impressive one-shot gimmick keeps it taut and interesting throughout its entire running time. And it’s actually got something to say and says it without being too obvious or too mysterious about it.
It also feels like the film adaptation of a midlife crisis. It’s beautiful! No character in the film really knows what they’re doing, and their constant attempts to figure that out come up fruitless in the end. There are truths revealed and large themes present, but the screenplay (co-written by Iñárritu and three others) questions these truths at every chance possible.
This leaves the viewer feeling the emotions of a existentialist midlife crisis, as well. This is especially true of the critic, who the film is anything but kind towards. They are portrayed as insincere know-nothings who obscure their insignificance with decorative syntax. Since I can’t really argue with that, I’ll just keep this short and let you, dear reader with no less important an opinion than I or any other critic, decide for yourself.
I’ll just say one thing: you should give Birdman a shot. It does reek of pretension and trumped-up self-importance at times, but it’s also magnificent and thought-provoking. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a midlife crisis to live out.
Zach Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on his Twitter page, @zachandforth.