All about Steve: A review of Birdman

by Fausta Rodriguez Wertz | February 25th, 2015

Readability

All about Steve: A review of Birdman

[Yes, spoil­ers ahead]

Mex­i­cans cel­e­brated that Bird­man won Best Pic­ture and its direc­tor, Ale­jan­dro González Iñár­ritu, Best Director.

Fif­teen years ago González Iñár­ritu directed Amores Per­ros, a hor­ri­fy­ing story of dog fights and strife in Mex­ico City — hor­ri­fy­ing enough that I walked away — which was nom­i­nated for Best For­eign Lan­guage Film. When I watched Bird­man I didn’t real­ize both films shared a director.

This time González Iñár­ritu got the Oscar for direct­ing Bird­man, with a plot skele­ton close enough to All About Eve that it ought to have been called All About Steve: Famous star in the twi­light years of a career is involved in a Broad­way pro­duc­tion, and gets upstaged by younger, pushier actor. Unlike Eve, every­thing that could go wrong, does.

Unfor­tu­nately, Bird­man doesn’t have the resilient Margo Chan­ning, or even a like­able Steve; instead it has booz­ing Rig­gan Thom­son, who has man­aged to squan­der a for­tune made by play­ing film super­hero Bird­man two decades ago, and also squan­dered the affec­tions of his wife, his daugh­ter, and his girl­friend, all of which man­age to still hang around and show con­cern for his well-​being, while com­plain­ing A Lot.

Enough char­ac­ters bemoan their sit­u­a­tion in life that this is the first film that prompted me to utter,“suck it up, but­ter­cup,” after watch­ing one too many of its mul­ti­ple rants.

The film’s full title is Bird­man: Or (The Unex­pected Virtue of Igno­rance), redo­lent of auteurs of yore, such as Buñuel’s The Dis­creet Charm of the Bour­geoisie, only that Bird­man’s bour­geoisie is ham-​fisted and insuf­fer­ably self-​absorbed, not dis­creet and charm­ing. I pick Buñuel because he lived for many years in Mex­ico, where he greatly influ­enced the film indus­try (link in Span­ish). You may come up with a few more, if that’s your thing.

That pompous and super­fi­cially pro­found paren­the­sis “(The Unex­pected Virtue of Igno­rance)” is key to the film. The script is loaded with one lit­er­ary and film ref­er­ence after another, not only to Ray­mond Carver (the play Rig­gan pro­duces is a four-​character drama based on his “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” short sto­ries), but to so many oth­ers that

These ref­er­ences have given cineastes and academically-​minded crit­ics an appar­ently irre­sistible oppor­tu­nity to show off. Richard Brody’s review in The New Yorker not only men­tions Godard and Hitch­cock but also “Jean-​Marie Straub and Danièle Huil­let, Chan­tal Aker­man, Abbas Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-​liang, Hong Sang-​soo, Lisan­dro Alonso, Pedro Costa.”

By loaded I mean in a way a beau­ti­ful pas­ture is loaded by bovine poop.

As if you haven’t suf­fered enough of this for a full two hours, the film’s dénoue­ment lands a super­tanker of philo­soph­i­cal and magical-​realism big enough to fuel dozens of film stud­ies the­sis for years to come.

If that’s your thing, go ahead, knock your­self out and see it.

I wanted to like Bird­man because of Michael Keaton, Edward Nor­ton, Broad­way and New York. Instead, I found it dull and pre­ten­tious, nar­cis­sis­tic and self-​referential … no won­der it’s pop­u­lar with mem­bers of the Academy.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, news, and cul­ture at Fausta’s Blog.

[Yes, spoilers ahead]

Mexicans celebrated that Birdman won Best Picture and its director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Best Director.

Fifteen years ago González Iñárritu directed Amores Perros, a horrifying story of dog fights and strife in Mexico City – horrifying enough that I walked away – which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. When I watched Birdman I didn’t realize both films shared a director.

This time González Iñárritu got the Oscar for directing Birdman, with a plot skeleton close enough to All About Eve that it ought to have been called All About Steve: Famous star in the twilight years of a career is involved in a Broadway production, and gets upstaged by younger, pushier actor. Unlike Eve, everything that could go wrong, does.

Unfortunately, Birdman doesn’t have the resilient Margo Channing, or even a likeable Steve; instead it has boozing Riggan Thomson, who has managed to squander a fortune made by playing film superhero Birdman two decades ago, and also squandered the affections of his wife, his daughter, and his girlfriend, all of which manage to still hang around and show concern for his well-being, while complaining A Lot.

Enough characters bemoan their situation in life that this is the first film that prompted me to utter,”suck it up, buttercup,” after watching one too many of its multiple rants.

The film’s full title is Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), redolent of auteurs of yore, such as Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, only that Birdman‘s bourgeoisie is ham-fisted and insufferably self-absorbed, not discreet and charming. I pick Buñuel because he lived for many years in Mexico, where he greatly influenced the film industry (link in Spanish). You may come up with a few more, if that’s your thing.

That pompous and superficially profound parenthesis “(The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is key to the film. The script is loaded with one literary and film reference after another, not only to Raymond Carver (the play Riggan produces is a four-character drama based on his “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” short stories), but to so many others that

These references have given cineastes and academically-minded critics an apparently irresistible opportunity to show off. Richard Brody’s review in The New Yorker not only mentions Godard and Hitchcock but also “Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, Chantal Akerman, Abbas Kiarostami, Tsai Ming-liang, Hong Sang-soo, Lisandro Alonso, Pedro Costa.”

By loaded I mean in a way a beautiful pasture is loaded by bovine poop.

As if you haven’t suffered enough of this for a full two hours, the film’s denouement lands a supertanker of philosophical and magical-realism big enough to fuel dozens of film studies thesis for years to come.

If that’s your thing, go ahead, knock yourself out and see it.

I wanted to like Birdman because of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Broadway and New York. Instead, I found it dull and pretentious, narcissistic and self-referential . . . no wonder it’s popular with members of the Academy.

Fausta Rodriguez Wertz writes on U.S. and Latin American politics, news, and culture at Fausta’s Blog.

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