Friday, November 7, 2014

Birdman Gets High (But I Didn't)



Getting great reviews is the new movie Birdman, starring the former Batman Michael Keaton as an action-hero actor seeking redemption by producing a Broadway play based on a Raymond Carver story.

The interestingly named actress Emma Stone, who was so good in The Help, plays Keaton's Lindsay Lohan-style daughter, just out of rehab. In one scene, he smells that she’s been smoking a joint; she makes no apologies. Creepily she is marking up a roll of toilet paper in a manner reminiscent of the Andy Griffith TV movie that addressed drug addiction in the 70s: "In her notebook page after page just had the word, 'Wow.'") After she splits, Keaton picks up the roach, shrugs, and takes a big puff. Things got a bit trippy after that.

Pot poster boy Zach Galifinakis is awesome as Keaton’s attorney; it was the clip played of him on The Daily Show that made me go see it.  Edward Norton is superb, even in something that doesn't approach his earlier work, like The Fight Club. Norton made a career playing schizophrenic characters, and summed up our schizophrenic approach to the drugs starring both as a pot dealer and his straight brother in Leaves of Grass.

In Birdman, Keaton's alter ego is always putting him down, and the men all do a lot of yelling, hitting each other (sometimes nearly naked), and destroying things. Then they kiss pretty women, who are all in supportive roles (Natalie Gold as the former wife, Andrea Riseborough as the new love interest, Naomi Watts as the insecure actress, and Lindsay Duncan as the bitch/critic).

There were some inspiring special effects and great acting, and the theme was courageous in a way, but it bored me: Men secretly think they’re shitheads (and they often are), so they have (often violent) fantasies about saving the world (and themselves). This we know.

There wasn't much to the marijuana plot; mostly they drink (much is made of the fact that Carver was an alcoholic). To the extent that it’s autobiographical about “Batman” Keaton, I suppose it might mean that he smokes pot. But I don’t see that on the web; instead he rather insults marijuana smokers here.

The scene I liked best was when Keaton acted a "truth" to Norton, who bought it. There was much about truth versus fiction, and it tried to be revelatory about men's inner life, but it failed to explore what the play within the play set out to investigate: love. His wife tells him he confuses love with admiration, and that seems right. He even talks about his fear of being on a plane with George Clooney, fearful that should the plane crash, the headline his daughter will read will be about the more handsome Batman.

Considering that the movie playing in the other theatre where I saw it was the totally dehumanizing Interstellar, Birdman deserves marks for attempting to address the human condition. I was always proud of Keaton, who rose from my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA after making his debut on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. I wanted to soar watching Birdman, but unlike the SF Chronicle's "little man clapping," it left me sitting in my seat. Because, in it, only the men soared. The women just got to watch, and admire. And sometimes supply the plot, or the pot.

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