Year Released: 2014
Directed by: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Starring: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis
(R, 119 min)
“Truth or illusion, George; you don’t know the difference.” –Edward Albee: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
When are the grown ups returning to Hollywood? The collective cult of the Academy is currently fainting in the aisles over Birdman like adolescent girls at a rock concert. It’s like sending your first born to the university and having her traipsing home for semester break with some interesting but unkempt weirdo in tow.
Used to be Best Picture nominees, let alone winners, were sweeping epics that captured bigger than life characters. They might be based on real life heroes, like Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Patton (1970), Gandhi (1982), Schindler’s List (1993), Braveheart (1995) or The King’s Speech (2010).
Or bigger than life imagined ones, such as Ben Hur (1959), Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Godfather (1972), The Sting (1973), Rocky (1976) or Gladiator (2000).
Maybe they caught momentous times from the point of view of the little guy; i.e., Casablanca (1943), From Here to Eternity (1953), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Driving Miss Daisy (1989) Forrest Gump (1994), Titanic 1997, The Hurt Locker (2009) Argo (2012) or 12 Years a Slave (2013).
But most of all, they generally have been movies that the public went to see. This year’s nominees, with the exception of the surprise box office sensation, American Sniper ($281.4 million and counting) have generally been commercial failures, counting on their nomination to bring in audiences after the fact.
Oscar favorites Birdman ($35.1 million) and Boyhood ($25.1 million) don’t seem to have that box office mojo, but perhaps that is actually helping them in the eyes of the Academy elites, who have to distinguish themselves from the little people who, you know, actually fork out their hard-earned greenbacks for tickets instead of having the DVDs arrive at their doorstep free of charge, as is the practice for voting Academy members.
Perhaps this lack of popular appeal is due to the actual premise of the film:
BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) - famous for portraying an iconic superhero - as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself.
Doesn’t really draw you in, does it? Actually, I will confess to having to force myself to the theater last weekend, my pre viewing enthusiasm level only slightly higher than doing my tax returns. In truth, Different Drummer felt that same way about 2011’s The Artist, (which incidentally, has a very similar storyline):
Not only is it about a time most of us neither care about nor remember – Hollywood’s silent film era – but it tells the tale in that same style, black and white and almost wordless.
No wonder I went to this movie like a toddler to nap time.
The Artist, however, was a delightful surprise. It was also a comedy about ego-driven actors, the hams in The Artist brimming over with pride and ego like two glasses of champagne. But strangely enough, we couldn’t help liking both of them.
That is not the case with Birdman and maybe that’s its problem. We can’t actually like any of the dysfunctional characters. Their self-absorption is more pathetic than anything else. Mildly amusing at best.
Yes, the scene where Keaton gets accidentally locked out of the theater while taking a smoke and has to walk down Broadway in his underwear to enter the theater from its front door, doing the final climatic scene in his “tighty whities” is well done. I suppose I should be impressed with the uninterrupted shot or “long take” as are so many gushing critics. But technique is the tail wagging the dog. Possibly impressive in its own right, but not enough to save a – okay I’ll say it – a goofy and somewhat vulgar film. One that Different Drummer might have enjoyed more in its own kooky way if it hadn’t been so unduly praised.
The much-lauded injection of director Alejandro González Iñárritu‘s magical realism (where unreal elements play a natural part in an otherwise realistic environment) fails to impress as well. The outsized character of Birdman, the super hero Keaton once played, is effective when only a disembodied husky voice that berates him in his dressing room. Perhaps less so when it starts stalking him on the street. But the final few scenes of the film are a confusion of truth and illusion that leaves the audience in a final state of frustration.
However, one real truth emerges from the film. Perhaps its real critical acclaim arises from a simple vanity on the part of the Academy members who see themselves and their lives portrayed on the bigger than life screen. And in that way, they are not too different in their egos than the “strutting players” who parade before us in Birdman.
A very big hat tip to Cook In Dine Out.com for this well thought out and put together cocktail to go with our film.
In Birdman, an actor (Michael Keaton) best-known for playing a superhero years ago (sound familiar?) tries to resurrect his career with a serious Broadway play. In this year's race, it is the film with the best chance to unseat frontrunner Boyhood for the Best Picture win. Birdman is up for 9 Academy Awards, including Picture, Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Supporting Actor (Edward Norton) and Supporting Actress (Emma Stone).
The Birdman Oscar Cocktail looks to Keaton's superhero-character for inspiration. It's all about things a bird encounters in the wild: fir trees, flowers, bees (and thus honey). Among this year's Oscar Cocktails, this film was the hardest for me to represent. Yet, I really like this drink and tested several variations of it (some on the rocks, some with ginger) before deciding this is the best recipe.
Birdman's Groadway Cocktail
1 1/2 oz. American dry gin (Aviation)
3/4 oz. Clear Creek Eau de Vie of Douglas Fir
1/4 oz. elderflower liqueur (St. Germain)
1/2 oz. honey syrup (see note)
2 dashes grapefruit bitters (Scrappy's)
Rosemary sprig garnish
Combine gin, Eau de Vie, elderflower liqueur, honey syrup and grapefruit bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until very cold. Strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with rosemary sprig.
Note: To make honey syrup, stir together equal parts of honey and warm water until combined.