This year’s frontrunner at the Oscars, “Birdman” will open exclusively at Ayala Malls Cinemas on January 28 and has thus far dominated the Academy Award with nine nominations in major categories including Best Picture. Other notable nominations for “Birdman” includes Best Director (Alejandro González Iñárritu), Best Actor (Michael Keaton), Best Supporting Actor (Edward Norton), Best Supporting Actress (Emma Stone), Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
In “Birdman,” Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s black comedy, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) hopes that by spearheading an ambitious new Broadway play he will, among other things, revive his moribund career. In many ways, it is a deeply foolhardy move – but the former cinema superhero has high hopes that this creative gambit will legitimize him as an artist and prove to everyone – and himself – that he is not just a Hollywood has-been.
With the play’s opening night looming, Riggan’s lead actor is injured by a freak accident during rehearsals and needs to be replaced quickly. At the suggestion of lead actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) and the urging of his best friend and producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), Riggan reluctantly hires Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) – a loose cannon who is guaranteed to sell tickets and get the play a rave review. As he preps for the stage debut, he must deal with his girlfriend and co-star Laura (Andrea Riseborough), his fresh-from-rehab daughter and personal assistant Sam (Emma Stone), as well as his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), who appears every so often to check-in with the intent to stabilize things.
“Riggan is profoundly human,” Iñárritu says. “I saw him as a kind of Don Quixote, where the humor comes from the disparity and permanent dislocation of his solemn ambitions and the ignoble reality that surrounds him. Basically, it’s the story of all of us.”
While the movie centers on the trials and tribulations of actors, Iñárritu sees their quest for gratification as a universal longing. “The modern definition of accomplishment – people want to be famous immediately, not from a body of work developed over years. In one second, people have 800,000 likes or followers and for some that is achievement in itself – but it’s delusional. The immediacy of social media can easily distort the reality of one person, especially Riggan, who has to fulfill expectations of what it is to be famous. And all this is new to him, that crossover is difficult. This is the story of a man trying to prove that he is more than that, more than the popular ‘liked’ guy. But in today’s world, where irony is king, anybody who wants to be earnest or honest is crucified. It is an absurd, surreal world,” Iñárritu explains. “In the end, I just tried to recount in a funny way the disasters of our human nature to reconcile, if not with the defects or faults of the world and our nature, with the way we approach and live them.”
Of this generation’s most admired women, Emma Stone plays Sam, Riggan’s daughter, newly sprung from rehab and working as her father’s assistant. Their relationship is strained – his onetime fame as the super hero Birdman meant that he was absent for much of her youth. Hiring her as his aide doesn’t do much to improve their situation. Sam has a keen eye and observes her father and the histrionics that come with his play with wry dispassion that is spot on but also a bit of a defense mechanism.
She says: “Because she is fresh out of rehab, I assume he needs to be watched by a family member. So she makes a huge mistake by working for him. It doesn’t help that he can’t connect with her at first and has her doing really menial errands. So it doesn’t begin well but by the end, she starts to see that they are very similar. Sam is one of the few characters in the movie who isn’t an actor, who isn’t in the play. That was kind of nice to play, she’s on the outside and witnesses all that is happening without being in the tornado on stage with all these crazy people,” Stone says.
And while this play has become Riggan’s single focus and his bid for artistic relevance, his daughter has a completely different and modern definition/measurement of what it is to matter.
“We find Riggan at a point of no return, in the midst of mounting a career comeback mostly driven by his desire to be relevant. My character Sam teaches him a lot about social media and the new nature of fame, which is something he is willfully ignorant of. The way actors are accessed now is very different than when Riggan was coming up as Birdman, 20 or 30 years prior. He wants to mean something but he also wants to be well-liked and respected as an artist but there is this sort of a modern day keeping up with the Joneses, this desire for mass appeal – and I think everyone can understand and relate to that,” Stone says.
Fortunately, she had a supportive guide in Iñárritu. “I learned so much. It was so exciting to live and breathe the character for the entire length of the scene. And Alejandro is so tuned in to actors, he knows what is going on your head line by line, sometimes better than you do. There was a day when I knew it just wasn’t working for me and suddenly I could feel it kick in and as I did, he clapped and said, ‘That’s IT!’ It’s amazing. I’ve never met a director who could do that, he feels what you do,” Stone says.