Mickey Mousing Never Sounded Better

in 25th Stockholm International Film Festival

by Quirijn Foeken

Those drums, those drums! I think I could be able to write a review just about the use of drums in the film score of the excellent film Birdman: or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance by Alejandro González Iñárritu.

The music score in Birdman consists almost exclusivly of drums, in an allmost free-jazz sounding way. Mickey Mousing, the act of fitting music to the exact movements of the characters have always been a no-go for film composers, but in this movie, we have a few of these Mickey Mousing moments and they work very, very well. In the days of the deep sounds of Hans Zimmer and his many copycats it’s refreshing to hear such a good score made by only a drumkit. Hats off to drummer Antonio Sánchez, who I think should get awarded for his work.

Birdman tells the story of a has-been actor called Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton, who was famous in the ’90s for playing a superhero called Birdman. He wants to reinvent himself as an actor by acting in a play that he himself adapted from What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. The play is produced by his best friend, played very well by Zach Galifianakis, and his girlfriend is one of the co-stars. We also meet Riggan’s daughter, Sam, played by Emma Stone, a former drug-user who has been working as an assistant for her father. At the beginning of the movie one of the actors is injured when a stagelight falls on his head and is replaced with the respected actor,  Mike Shiner, played by Edward Norton, who’s performance is knocking it out the park. Shiner turns out the be a great actor in the play but his antics cause great stress among his co-stars.  This increasing stress is fitted perfectly with the drums that are getting more and more frantic.

All of this makes for a smart and very funny movie. The dialogues is witty and well written with many throwaway lines that make small jabs at Hollywood, the film industry, and actors. A small joke about Goldie Hawn made my day, and when trying to find a new actor they are talking about Michael Fassbender and Jeremy Renner, neither of whom are available because of their commitment in sequels for superhero- movies. The funny dialogue is countered by surrealist scenes where Keaton is show to have telekinitec powers that he only displays when he is alone. At these moments, he also hears his Birdman-character as a voice in his head, critizing every step he makes.

Because Michael Keaton used to play Batman, the movie tends to be a bit meta and maybe a bit too ironic. It’s a thin line and I’m not sure if they crossed a few times. It’s easy to criticize Hollywood as this money-making-machine obsessed by milking every superhero-franchise known to man dry, but then again, maybe it is. And maybe Broadway is filled with Hollywood actors who try to prove to the world that they are legit. And maybe critics made up their mind before they see a play.

Cinematographers are going to have a blast watching this movie. In the scenes the camera is constantly spinning around the actors, and clever editing makes it look like the movie is made in only one long take. For me, the spinning of the camera was a bit much. Although it looks great, it made me also a little bit nervous at the time. 

In conclusion we can say that Birdman ticks all the boxes: great camerawork, great actors (especially Keaton, Galifinakis and Norton), great music and just a lot of funny stuff.

Edited by Glenn Dunks