Sunday, January 25, 2015

Michael Keaton Battles Obession in Birdman

I awoke feeling my heart beating from my gums. My wisdom teeth. I really should have them removed. But I wouldn't have been able to stay asleep regardless. I was only a few hours removed from seeing Birdman starring Michael Keaton in the role that has been labeled a "comeback."

Birdman like fellow 2015 Oscar darling Boyhood I had followed via IMDB for years. The Michael Keaton watch began shortly after the 2009 Oscars which brought to a close the Cinderella-esque journey of Mickey Rourke from the bowels of Hollywood tragedy to resurrected dramatic actor. My friend and I had said in the wake of Rourke's resurgence that it would be great to see Michael Keaton do the same.

That's how my following of Birdman began because as you first read the plot summary, it sounded meant for the Batman of the now 30 year old generation. Like that little exchange between Seth Rogen and Zach Efron. Yeah, Michael Keaton was our Batman. He was our guy.

That was the two-fold punch that I expected from Birdman all of these years. Funny thing now seeing it, it couldn't be further. It's more like a gut punch that really bruises on the inside. You feel it the next day. That's where I'm at with my sudden awaking on a Sunday morning.

Birdman, put simply, is every bit as emotionally moving as any film this year. It just happens to be buried beneath heavy Hollywood satire and the tongue in cheek tug of war between film actors and thespians of the stage; not to mention scenes and moments that seem cultivated from Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool Aid Acid Test.

I could get into the filming of Birdman, and how it embodies the stage aspect in its filming framed around it's Broadway setting. I could expound on the comparisons to Hitchcock's underrated vehicle Rope. Undoubetly, it's a true exercise in ambitious, patient filmmaking, and laser-focused acting that leaves little room for error.

There's a beautiful raw lesson coated underneath all of that, though, that deserves the real attention. Birdman is not just about an actor making a comeback. It's about a man coming to grips with the fact that ego is fleeting and his own laser focus on what he considered art is in actuality infantile compared to the real moments that count in life. Keaton weeps in the third act about missing his child's birth and the attention he gave his career non-stop over the years; the obsession he's dealing with now in this comeback to the stage his character is making after years of being a blockbuster superhero.

That's the heart of this movie. The realization that a lot of what we might think really matters actually means half as much as the things we may be ignoring around us. Whether it's art, sports, or pure, raw capitalism on the battle grounds of entrepreneurship, we're easily strayed to push ourselves so hard for the brass ring, while we neglect our family around us sometimes.

When we went to the theater tonight, our intention was to see American Sniper. Surprisingly, every showing was sold out the rest of the night. Every one of them. My wife and I found ourselves stuck with having to pick an alternative on the fly. Birdman might not have been her cup of tea, but then again, maybe it didn't need to be. I found myself almost disappointed or let down at first that she didn't have the same zeal I did when we got in the car. But maybe that's because it didn't need to be poignant for her because she has her priorities in line consistently.

I, on the other hand, am an obsessive, relentless, damn near psychotic artist, and that's not meant to be pretentious. I am obsessed with creating, whether its in acting, writing, editing, even just in wrestling and film in general. The tunnel vision forms, and I get dialed in, and it won't go away until the job is done or the piece is done or the podcast is edited. Art really is an obsession. But that's why Birdman was so poignant for me. The wake Michael Keaton's character has left on his thematic journey is one that has negated the truly beautiful moments of life.

Where this film ultimately succeeds, and I know this is reaching and it won't land on everyone, but it's a film that doesn't make you cry in the moment. It doesn't land right then and there in your chair. It comes along afterwards, and that to me is the mark of what makes a film really special nowadays. It lands and stays because it's deep down something very universal that we can't merely cast to the side.

Now the final irony sinks in. My wife is sleeping right now. We're seven weeks into our pregnancy. Ours, it's really hers, but its our journey together. I just told you Birdman was a movie about letting go of obsession. What am I doing now but mingling once again with my obsession on the keyboard. It's time to close up shop. Res Ispa Loquitur. The Thing Speaks For Itself.

- Critical Bill, @williamrenken83