Which was distracting because I kept thinking to myself who still wears tighty whities? And could they really be making a comeback?
It wasn’t quite the same reaction for me as it was for American males when Clark Gable took his shirt off in It Happened One Night (1934), and...gasp...he wasn’t wearing an undershirt. Sales of undershirts plummeted practically overnight. Could Keaton be as powerful as John F. Kennedy who nearly destroyed the men’s hat business by refusing to muss his mop of buoyant hair? (It does beg the question: did the Warren Commission question known disgruntled hatters as closely as they should have?)
Are men consigning their cool and collected charcoals, their sporty neon yellows, or their hot tamale red underwear to the flames? Are they surreptitiously going down to the local Walmart and purloining the retro and possibly trending tighty whities?
I don’t think so.
For Riggan Thomson those underwear are just another sign that he is trapped in the past.
His best days are twenty years behind him when he played the superhero Birdman. A nice allusion to Keaton’s own stint as Batman and also a source of continuous humorous references to other actors who have donned capes. There are those who are content to rest on their past laurels, but Riggan wants to make his way back to box office gold and more importantly experience true unadulterated fame once again. He decides that the play of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk about When talk about Love is his chance to springboard back into the limelight.
His daughter Sam (Emma Stone), recently out of rehab, is working as his assistant. She can’t decide if she loves her father or hates him. He was famous and successful which is almost a bigger problem than if he had been a loser. He didn’t pay enough attention to her, but he would have been equally damned if he’d paid too much attention to her. Those of us who have raised teenagers can attest to the fact that we are judged on our ability to maintain the perfect levels of expressed affection and interest in their lives. A tilt in one direction or another brings condemnation. Perfection, especially when being judged by the miniature versions of ourselves, is nearly impossible to achieve. Sam is caught between being a child and being an adult which gives her so many more things to resent and so many more opportunities to be offended.
Riggan: Listen to me. I'm trying to do something important.
Sam: This is not important.
Riggan: It's important to me! Alright? Maybe not to you, or your cynical friends whose only ambition is to go viral. But to me... To me... this is - God. This is my career, this is my chance to do some work that actually means something.
Sam: Means something to who? You had a career before the third comic book movie, before people began to forget who was inside the bird costume. You're doing a play based on a book that was written 60 years ago, for a thousand rich old white people whose only real concern is gonna be where they go to have their cake and coffee when it's over. And let's face it, Dad, it's not for the sake of art. It's because you want to feel relevant again. Well, there's a whole world out there where people fight to be relevant every day. And you act like it doesn't even exist! Things are happening in a place that you willfully ignore, a place that has already forgotten you. I mean, who are you? You hate bloggers. You make fun of Twitter. You don't even have a Facebook page. You're the one who doesn't exist. You're doing this because you're scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don't matter. And you know what? You're right. You don't. It's not important. You're not important. Get used to it.
After a “fortuitous accident” on stage, Riggan has to replace one of the actors in the play. This brings in Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who is disruptive, moody, self-righteous, and exactly what the play needs. He challenges everyone and everything. As if things weren’t chaotic enough,with Mike comes lit molotov cocktails which he happily lobs in all directions.
From the meditative beginning of the film one would assume that Riggan is a calm, centered individual, and maybe he would have been except for…
The Voice in his head.
The Voice is not advocating peace and tranquility, but rather slices and dices Riggan’s moods with daggers of resentment and ice picks of self doubt. It gives Riggan an edge that actually focuses his performance and makes him see the play beyond just the dialogue.
Lesley (Naomi Watts) is close to Mike Shiner and was instrumental in convincing him to come be a part of the play. In fact they are so close that they “share a vagina.” Lesley lightens the moments when the film starts to get heavy. The whole movie is a fine balancing act, and one feels like you are running pell mell down a hallway just trying to stay up with the characters and catch all the wonderful dialogue.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu did a fabulous job filming the movie as if it were captured in a continuous shot. This viewer felt as if he were there, being captured in digital pixels right along with Keaton, Norton, Watts, and Stone. It seemed so real I almost called up Riggan Thomson this morning to see if he wanted to have coffee.
My son was absolutely right. I needed to see this movie and so do you.