Recently I had the chance to watch the Oscar nominated film Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance and I’m afraid, like with Gone Girl ,my opinion is not as positive as the public at large….It has many strengths but some problems I have a hard time ignoring.
Let’s start with the positives. Birdman is about a man named Riggan Thomson played my Michael Keaton who used to be a superhero action star for a franchise called ‘Birdman’. Evidently at one point he could have done Birdman 3 but stepped away from the franchise out of artistic integrity and his career never recovered. Now years later he is trying to make a comeback in a broadway play based on a Raymond Carver short story.
Edward Norton also stars as a young, high strung method actor who thinks he’s better than Riggan and condescends to be in the show because of his friendship with a first time actress Lesley played by Naomi Watts. Emma Stone plays Riggan’s daughter who is recently out of rehab, Andrea Risenborough is his girlfriend and Zach Galifianakis is his lawyer and best friend.
Birdman has very good performances especially from Keaton. He is great, vulnerable, believable, authentic and tragic. The whole rest of the cast is great and nuanced in their roles (although actors playing actors may not be that much of a stretch…).
Birdman’s cinematography is also a huge accomplishment. It is edited to look like the whole film is done in one take so there are very few cuts from one person shot, to 2 person shot like in a normal movie. The camera just moves fluidly from a scene to another scene as if someone was walking from one area of the hallway to another hearing different gossip along the way.
Here’s my issue with the film. It really bothered me the way women are treated. Now before you roll your eyes at another feminist movie review hear me out. I don’t care if a movie has weak, shallow women. That’s fine and certainly the strong empowered woman can be equally clichéd. However, I do have a problem when every female in a picture is weak, shallow, mean, petty and shrill.
Let’s go over quickly the women we get in Birdman.
1. Andrea Risenborough as Riggan’s girlfriend Laura who pretends to be pregnant in order to manipulate him into committing to their relationship. She is shrill and judgmental and a real jerk
2. Next we get Lesley played by Naomi Watts who has always dreamed of being on Broadway. The movie seems to judge her for this dream as if Riggan’s is the realist and Lesley is the naive simpleton. We see so little of her acting that it is hard to say one way or another. What really upset me is in an early scene Edward Norton tries to force himself on Lesley in an attempted rape on stage so that he can be “in the moment” and then the movie forgets about this far too quickly. It was extremely distasteful. I’m not saying the movie endorses Norton’s choice but it doesn’t take it seriously enough.
3. There is a lesbian kiss between Lesley and Laura which I felt was only there to titillate men not for any plot device or importance. To be clear I am not offended by the kiss but haven’t we moved on from when gay/lesbian kisses and relationships were included to sensationalize or for comic relief? Apparently not. There is no relationship between them and it means nothing. I saw no reason to include it and it was never discussed again.
4. Emma Stone playing Sam, Riggan’s daughter, is probably the best female character in the movie but she is still very judgmental and preachy to her father. Can’t she see that he is trying to do something important and good? You would think she would appreciate that but instead she lectures him about how he is worthless and nobody cares.
5. Amy Ryan has a few scenes with Riggans as his ex-wife who hates Riggan but is still attracted to him. She’s very shrill with a couple softer moments. (not in the movie much).
5. The worst of it all is a woman named Tabitha Dickinson who is a famous theater critic from the New York Times. She knows she can make or break a Broadway show by her review and she tells Riggan she is going to destroy him and his play before even seeing it. She feels this way because she resents celebrities infringing on the Broadway scene. This was outrageous. Maybe I’m naive but I don’t think there is a critic worth their ticket stub who would decide on a review before seeing the play. And if they did they certainly wouldn’t admit it to the show creator and star. That sounds like a good way to lose your job. There is a little redemption for her character but still she was unbelievable from the start. And why did she have to be a woman? Couldn’t the movie have made one judgmental jerk a man?
Again, it’s just another example of the shrill, judgmental, mean-spirited women the movie seems to think are the rule.
The men on the other hand are more positively portrayed. Zach Galifianakis is the good friend who still believes in Riggans despite all the junk he does. Edward Norton is a pig but has softer moments with Emma Stone. Riggans is a sympathetic character surrounded by all these maniacs. He is depressed and mentally ill, hallucinating and running around in his underwear in Times Square but is still likable.
I don’t know. I just couldn’t get passed these depictions of women throughout the film- especially Lesley’s near rape and Tabitha’s condescending review threats. It made the movie unpleasant and frustrating.
It also has lots of profanity, some nudity, and mature content. Adults only. It took me two go-arounds to watch the whole thing because I wasn’t invested in it.
I know many love it and it may win Best Picture (a travesty if it does IMO) but I didn’t care for it. Sorry!
Overall Grade- C- (only because of the strong performances and cinematography). Content Grade- F