9 Elements that Make the Movie BIRDMAN a Success and an Academy Award Winner

BirdmanFortunately, I watched BIRDMAN this past Saturday. The movie was being aired on one of Dish’s Pay-per-view channels. It was certainly worth the $4.99 to see. I wasn’t sure what the movie was about. I’d not read anything except the blurb on PPV so when it began, I was a baby. New to the story. Expecting nothing.

I’ve listed 9 items below that, in my humble opinion, make the story a successful one.

  1. Unique story–the idea is new to me for the genre of family drama. I was brought up reading Tennessee Williams and continue to read stories written by authors such as Garth Stein, Karen E. Bender, and Jodi Picoult. But this was a fresh take in a genre that tends to fall back onto realism. Birdman mixes surreal qualities to a very real-life tale. The closest of my reading to this story might be with Maxine Hong King’s “Woman Warrior” where King imagines the protagonist as an ancient Chinese woman warrior on horseback. Birdman tells the tale of a flagging Hollywood super hero movie star who seems to have leached super hero qualities from this past favorite role. I’m not surprised that this movie received the esteemed Best Movie award in the Academy Awards last night.
  2. Actors reach beyond themselves–In Birdman, Michael Keaton’s acting outdoes any previous role with this single one. And I’m surprised Keaton did not nab the award for best actor. His character felt real. Riggan (Keaton’s character) had been punched down so many times and from every angle–in his personal life, his spiritual life and his professional life. I never once sat back and thought, “this is great acting.” It was only after the movie ended that I got a chance to absorb what the actors succeeded in doing and to compare each actor in their role. Edward Norton put on a great performance as the Broadway star and love of everything New York. Juxtaposed by Keaton’s Hollywood megastar and loathed by New York critiques as adamantly as they loved Norton’s character. Norton plays an opportunistic, self-consumed, method actor who is professional in procedure (knowing his lines; showing up for work on time) while being as unprofessional as they come (breaking character in front of an audience; becoming sexually-aroused while on stage). Keaton’s problems manifest with Riggan (Keaton) potentially at risk of losing his promiscuous daughter to Norton’s character, and losing his family entirely–a far greater stake than loss of a career or fame.
  3. Super hero theme–Initially, we see his powers exhibited in the very first scene, an odd scene that leaves the viewer wondering how and what and why (an awesome hook scene)–with questions answered soon enough when we realize how greatly influenced Riggan has become by his previous role as The Birdman. The writers of this film have given nuance to the movie by slipping in visions of the character as his former super hero role, in full costume, antagonizing Riggan, and exhibiting the full extent of the role complete with telekinetic power and the ability to fly.
  4. Underdog struggle–Keaton’s aging character, Riggan, is your archetypal underdog and is a dimming light that previously shone brightly in mega-blockbuster movies. Instantly, the audience sympathizes with him. Nothing has gone right for Riggan in a long time and we end up pulling for him. We long for him. We hope he wins just once before he dies. But the writers continue to drop bombs onto Riggan’s circumstances until we really believe Riggan will end it all.
  5. Utilizing a Well-known Author’s Previous works–I felt the story device was unique, something used most recently in the movie “Midnight in Paris” which was based lightly on Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” Birdman utilizes this device with Raymond Carver’s novel “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Although in Birdman, the play within the movie which will open in just days, is largely based on Carver’s story. Here’s a side note: I just read in Publisher’s Weekly how Birdman has propelled the sales of Carver’s books across titles but mostly for “What We Talk About.”
  6. A New York Story–It’s a given in the publishing industry that more stories are sold (as books and viewed as movies) if they are based in New York City. Having visited NYC several times, these stories definitely draw me to either read them or watch them. In fact, the decision to write my latest collaborative boxset, entitled Detective Ink, was based largely on statistical information of New York stories outdoing others simply because they were set in New York City.
  7. A Hollywood Story–Equally, stories about Los Angeles and Hollywood have always garnered more readers and viewers than, say, a novel set in Ames, Iowa. I’m not to saying that lots doesn’t happen in Ames. Certainly that would be untrue. What I’m saying is that the draw isn’t as widespread as a story set where movies are filmed and starlets are born. Both NYC and LA are centers of the entertainment world. The draw is understandable.
  8. A Real Villain–We have discussed the protagonist, the setting, technical devices and now we have finally arrived at Birdman’s villain–the antagonist. She appears a bit later in the film but has undertones and foreshadowing as soon as the movie begins. This villain has long been a maker or breaker of Broadway shows. Yes. I’m speaking about the theatre critic. The actor, Lindsay Duncan plays Tabitha as if Hollywood itself were responsible for the genocide of all children. I actually called the character a scathing name when I caught Bob up on the story–he came home three-quarters into the film. I hated Tabitha. Duncan is awesome. You will loathe her, exactly what the director wants from you. They had me hook, line and sinker and I was loving it.
  9. A Satisfying Ending–So we get to the ending. I will not spoil it for you. I will not say that the ending was open or tightly-wrapped up. I will not say that it was a happy ending or a sad one. I will not say anything much about the ending because so much happens that I would have to write a dissertation to fully examine the intent, the outcome, my perceptions, and my hopes about what might have happened to the characters after the end of the movie in order to give full credit to the ending. I will say that brilliant comes to mind. Because, honestly, how can an ending story of such high caliber not be cheapened by discussing it and this ain’t cheap. What I will say, is that my reaction was, “Oh man! Perfect.”

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