Question: What does a late, mid-life crisis sound like?
Antonio Sanchez’s free-form drum improvisation that underpins Birdman throughout, is probably a fair approximation of what we might expect to hear, conjuring up a real sense of mad, rudderless mayhem. It’s a fitting backdrop to accompany Riggan Thomson’s (the excellent Michael Keaton), own neurotic quest for mid-life, artistic self-validation as he attempts to shed the public’s unshakeable insistence that he is and always will be, Birdman.
The character ‘Birdman’ has made him a movie star, earning him worldwide recognition and a legion of devoted fans, but now he’s struggling to reinvent himself as a serious actor in a Broadway show that he’s taking the bold decision to both act in and direct.
Not only is there a public opinion to sway, but there’s a near perfect storm of fairly poisonous elements that surround him, threatening to derail his efforts at every turn and perhaps worst of all, the voice and lingering shadow of Birdman hovers over him like a bad avian smell, attempting to persuade him to forget his artistic plans and ideals and embrace the spirit and essence of Birdman. That, after all, is who he is and all he’ll ever be.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu uses the claustrophobic, almost labyrinthine maze of interconnecting passages that run beneath the broadway theatre, to capture the mood of frustration, of being lost and an overwhelming sense of chaos and impending disaster. It’s a labyrinth that seemingly leads nowhere and demonstrates both the confusion and doubt that pervades Riggan’s own mind. Indeed Riggan is a man desperately trying to navigate his way through life’s maze of challenges, be they a wise-ass, fresh out of rehab daughter, an overbearing, seditious and tactless co-star (the brilliant Edward Norton), who it seems, either through a calculated devious streak or massively blinkered selfishness (it’s hard to say which), is determined to put a spanner in both Riggan and the play’s works.
Add to this Riggan’s desire to kowtow to the somewhat elitist, artistic thought processes of Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), a theatre critic so influential and hard-hearted, that her word can and frequently does make or break any new play that finds its way onto the boards of Broadway.
Finally, we have a messy succession of lingering romantic interests from Riggan’s life, both past and present and what should be a time of concerted, artistic focus upon a career highlight, is rapidly turning into a game of spinning plates; rapidly spinning out of control that is.
Birdman is brilliantly entertaining; a dark comedy which has everything from toe-curling, excruciating farce and embarrassment to joyous, uplifting fantasy.
Deep down I suppose, much like Birdman, we all want to believe we can fly in life and if we can do that, soaring above the streets of Manhattan, to the haunting strains of Rachmaninoff, then I guess that really is what it’s all about, isn’t it? Come to think of it, Rachmaninoff’s majestic second symphony is probably exactly what a late, mid-life crisis would sound like. We search all of our lives for that kind of elusive meaning and perfection; something we’ve never quite been able to find and let’s face it, probably never will.
Birdman; brilliant and literally uplifting.