Life upon the wicked stage: Birdman (it's only a movie not a play)

It isn't theatre, but a film that is sort of about theatre, Birdman opens here on 1 January. It  brings back to the screen Michael Keaton as a former movie star from a successful comic book franchise. Washed up and without a movie career, he is planning a comeback by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway play, based on a Raymond Carver short story.

Keaton's character Riggan Thompson sees the piece as his chance for validation, yet at every step he feels frustrated by his fellow actors and haunted by the voice of his superhero alter-ego, Birdman. His daughter who is a recovering addict and supporting him on the show tells him that he is no longer relevant and he should just get over it like everyone else.


The play is full of cynical observations about the state of movies and fame today where every film is a franchise full of explosions and little substance. But as recent events have highlighted with The Interview, films of little substance have great cultural impact when you're surrounded by the paranoid or the moronic. And these days you're nobody if you don't have a million followers on Instagram, even if most of them are just spambots.

There are also some wry observations on the state of the theatre business. While there are frequent references to the theatre being a home for real art, the Broadway that surrounds the St James Theatre includes a jukebox musical made up of hits from Motown, or the long-running Phantom of the Opera. Neither could particularly be considered art but no doubt generate some serious box office takings...

And with its long tracking shots giving the impression of a continuous take, the theatre backstage seems a labyrinth of corridors, cheap dressing rooms and places for sex. It's a confusing world and one that Riggan is only visiting for validation.

There are some great performances here and not just from Keaton as the washed up actor. Edward Norton is hilarious as Mike. He is a serious theatre actor and constantly challenging Riggan with his obsessive acting methods, a need for sun bed and sexual proclivities (along with rather interesting choice of swimwear).

But in the end nothing really matters. Depending on how you feel for Keaton's character and his plight probably will influence how successful you feel this film is. Is he really a superhero or just a man with some crazy thoughts? It is hard to tell. Depression, drug abuse and suicide seem to be deployed as convenient plot devices rather than something substantial to be explored.

Perhaps it doesn't matter. Afterall it is only just a movie...

It opens on boxing day with nationwide release on 1 January.


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