2 Stars – Shallow
It is an easy prediction to say that Birdman will be loved by the cinema community. It is a well-crafted story, artfully told, about a series of remarkably shallow people. The center of the story is the disintegrating life of a movie star who became famous for portraying “Birdman” (similar to the “Batman” comic book series) and who walked away from the successful franchise and now lives paycheck to paycheck acting in a show on Broadway. The film is a film-maker’s delight, but the people being portrayed are not the kind you would want to invite home to dinner. If anything, they are despicable characters whose day-to-day moral choices are templates for empty and vapid lives.
In an ironic twist, the once famous Riggan (aka “Birdman”) is played by Michael Keaton who in real life twice portrayed “Batman” in the 1989 and 1992 big screen franchise. Riggan is a self-absorbed actor who has conversations in his head with himself, mostly centered on his loss of celebrity status in the superficial world of Hollywood. He has decided to write, produce, and star in a play on Broadway to revive his career.
In order to get the show open, Riggan and his manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis) will say and do anything to get what they want. What they need most is another lead actor in their play, and through a series of circumstances they entice Mike (Edward Norton), a favorite of Broadway critics, to join the show. Mike is so self-centered that he makes Riggan look like a saint.
Add to this toxic human cocktail Riggan’s ex-wife Leslie (Naomi Watts), his just-out-of-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone), and a cattle call of other character actors. Sam is the assistant to her once famous father, and carries a smoldering contempt for his love of self over love of family. Her bitter assessment of her father’s fleeting attempt to recapture his superficial glory is the best dialogue in the show.
There are many comedy moments, but there are also many moments of lying, cheating, sexual immaturity, self-loathing, and suicide attempts. If anything, it is a human tragedy masked as a comedy.
What makes fame so attractive? Pop culture is filled with the news of unhappy rock stars, arrests of drug-filled TV actors, and hounded celebrities whose lives end tragically. And yet, the seduction of celebrity culture feeds an ever growing need for recognition – for feeling like I am “somebody important” and my life is a success. It is the ultimate drug-induced illusion.
Birdman may bring a few laughs, but it also brings a sense of sobering disillusionment about the shallowness of fame. Its antidote is to focus on others rather than yourself, sharing your talents for the good of all rather than building a monument to your own ego. The models of great personal fulfillment are found more in Mother Teresa rather than Michael Jackson. Both shared great talent, but one life ended in total fulfillment and the other, like Birdman, in a world of hurt and loneliness.
Discussion for those who have seen the film:
- 1. It is said that living a life of “significant contribution” is basic to a meaningful life. What significant contribution are you making with the years you have on this planet?
- Living a life that feeds a narcissistic ego only makes that malady stronger. How do you deal with your own ego and the egos of others? What would your family and best friends say about your behaviors – do they feed your own ego or love and care for others?
- When we see the pain in Sam we recognize that it is the children of egotistical people who suffer the most. How do you help relieve the pain of those you know who are suffering from being the child of such a parent?