Movie Review: Birdman and Cavalry
NOTE: Unfortunately, we don't get to see every film together, so in lieu of one film with two takes here is one take on two films released this year that Bob got to see.
Cavalry is a quiet film about quiet country-side life in Ireland inside of a mystery film about a priest that receives a death threat from an unknown parishioner at his church. Both elements of the film are told with wit and warmth, though I was surprised to find the scenes about a priest doing the best he can in a small town to be the most compelling parts of the film. So many bad films teach us that it is very easy for an alleged non-stop thrill ride to be the dullest thing you’ve ever seen; it’s easy to forget that a talented filmmaker can make something you thought you never cared about immensely interesting. This is a film where everything just feels right. There’s so much thoughtfulness in the creation of every character and every scene that I would have liked to exist in its universe for hours and hours. By the time the film reminds you that it is also a murder mystery with its dramatic ending, it’s a bummer because you remember that it has to end.
I have a bit of a stubborn bias against novels about writers, songs about singers, and films and plays about the people who make films and plays. An artist who starts to find the most interesting thing about her world to be act of creating her art is no different than the office worker who goes from hating his job to losing the ability to understand that his stories about TPS reports are not fascinating to his friends and family. It is the point of no return. Self-indulgence aside, the disproportionate number of pieces of art about creators of art results in stale commentary that is usually masturbatory under the guise of self-flagellation. Birdman manages to be entertaining and interesting enough that none of those things really bothered me.
Anyone who has seen a single television show or film about Hollywood (and there are thousands to choose from) has seen much of the film’s commentary before: actors have big egos, producers are insincere, critics are insufferably pretentious, and the general public is insatiable in its bloodthirsty appetite for celebrity culture consumption.
Birdman features these same jabs, but it does so in such a winking manner that it’s difficult to tell if it is a satire of Hollywood and Broadway or a satire of satires about Hollywood and Broadway. Another possibility is that it has nothing to say about any of those things and is just using the loaded backdrop of the entertainment industry as a misdirect to tell a ridiculous if emotionally empty story with some real visual panache and terrific acting. It is difficult to determine the intention of the director and screenwriter/ Are we ever supposed to take Riggan seriously or should we always view him as a delusional buffoon? An ending that seems to want it both ways compounds this, but it also feels like a very intentional decision to end it this way, especially as it directly follows a tight, tragic fake-out of a conclusion.
The result is a film that is equal parts frustrating and entertaining, but in a film crazy enough to have character that may or may not actually have the powers of an actual BirdMan, the frustration is part of the fun.