A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu's Birdman is a bold and beautiful movie that's probably best left for adults and the most mature teens. It's thorny and forceful in the best ways possible; its power lies in its unequivocal attempts to address questions about identity, failure, and relevancy. Characters fight brashly and aren't afraid to push one another's buttons. The lead character plummets to the depths of despair; he flails, drinks, smokes pot, gets vicious in verbal fights, and flails some more. The play he's producing has scenes in which a gun goes off and actors threaten each other. There's also plenty of swearing, from "a--hole" to "f--k," as well as some kissing and a scene in which an underwear-clad actor gets an erection while on stage during a play.
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What's the story?
It's just days until the opening night of his first Broadway play, and actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is beyond jangled. His horrible co-star has just been injured, and a replacement has been found in Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a Broadway veteran whose "method" is founded on chaos and controversy. But Mike is brilliant -- and a box-office draw. Never mind that his girlfriend (Naomi Watts), who's also in the play, is increasingly on the outs with him. Meanwhile, Riggan's other co-star -- and sometime paramour -- Laura (Andrea Riseborough) has just informed him that she may be pregnant. And his producer/lawyer (Zach Galifianakis) tells him that the funding's run dry, too. All while his fresh-out-of-rehab daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), vacillates between hating him and needing their connection. But the play is Riggan's last hope to rise above his previous incarnation: He was once famous for playing Birdman, a superhero with a caustic tongue whose voice Riggan still hears often. And loudly.
Is it any good?
BIRDMAN will leave you soaring. It's what moviemaking is meant to be, if a director allows his (and his actors') considerable gifts to run unfettered by conventional wisdom, self-consciousness, or an enormous need to please. It commits all sorts of sins -- it's overlong and overstuffed and the plot is flimsy -- but is still just about perfect. The story is as meta as can be; whoever cast Keaton, a super-talent who also was once identified with a superhero character (Batman) and long in search of a super-project, is a mastermind. Though Riggan lives in a stylized milieu, he's authentic and familiar and desperately moving.
Pretty much everyone else is, too, from Stone -- who plays Riggan's deeply angry daughter well, with nary a shortcut -- to Norton, who's equally convincing and terrifying as an agitating actor who's best onstage and nowhere else. Music thrums through the movie, reminding us that what we're watching is as mournful as a classical elegy and as riffy as late-night jazz. And the dialogue is swift and mighty. (A perfect line: "Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.") That the central play depicted in the movie is based on the work of virtuosic short-story writer Raymond Carver is added genius; to paraphrase the writer, Birdman is what we talk about when we talk about good movies.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what Birdman is saying about the nature of art and artists -- and of us as audiences. What do each bring to the experiences they share?
What audience do you think the movie is targeted at? How can you tell? What messages does it convey to that audience?
How would you characterize Riggan's relationship with Sam? With his ex-wife?
Why does Riggan keep hearing Birdman's voice? What does that mean? Is he his conscience or his tormentor?
- In theaters: October 17, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: February 17, 2015
- Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis
- Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
For kids who love quirky characters
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.