Barry Keoghan Has Another Unforgettable Musical Number in New Cannes Movie

Amazon MGM Studios
Amazon MGM Studios

Barry Keoghan gave the world one of last year’s most memed and memorable musical movie moments when he danced naked to “Murder on the Dancefloor” at the end of Saltburn. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, he’s back at it in Andrea Arnold’s beguiling new film Bird.

(Warning: Some light spoilers from the movie ahead.)

Frankly, we should have expected this. Arnold is a filmmaker who loves to swing for the fences when it comes to her soundtracks. In her last narrative feature, American Honey, she choreographed a grimy meet-cute to Rihanna’s “We Found Love” in a Kmart. Here, she has a tattooed Keoghan singing Blur.

It’s a serenade that comes at the end of the film, which mostly focuses on 12-year-old Bailey (Nykiya Adams). Bailey’s malaise of adolescence is compounded by the fact that her very young dad Bug (Keoghan) has announced that he’s getting married and his fiancée Kayleigh (Frankie Box) is moving into their graffiti-covered flat with her young daughter. Kayleigh also wants Bailey to wear a cheetah print catsuit to their ceremony, which further infuriates the tomboyish Bailey.

After falling asleep in a field one night after refusing to go home, Bailey is approached by a strange man who calls himself Bird (Franz Rogowski). Bird is a disconcertingly cheery presence, who twirls around in his skirt. Though Bailey is at first skeptical, she begins to follow him around, becoming invested in his journey of finding his family, all while fighting for her own. Her younger siblings, who still live with their mother (Jasmine Jobson), are at risk due to a volatile new boyfriend in their home.

Arnold is one of the great social realist filmmakers, and she’s tracked the longings of British and American youth in the likes of Fish Tank and American Honey. Here she imbues that with a healthy dose of magical realism, augmenting her usual desire to find beauty in circumstances others might find sad.

Animals and animalistic humans are all over Bird. From the moment he first meets Bailey, Bird has an otherworldly quality, like a guardian angel who, yes, perches on buildings like a bird. Meanwhile, Bug, (the animal names are pertinent here), is determined to make money for his nuptials by drawing hallucinogenic slime from a toad. To do so, he determines he has to play the toad “sincere” music, which at one point means he and a bunch of other dudes serenade the creature with Coldplay’s “Yellow.” (“Murder on the Dancefloor” is rejected as an option for the amphibian, which got laughs from the Cannes crowd.)

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But that cannot prepare you for the experience of watching Keoghan take the mic and launch into Blur’s “The Universal” off-key. It’s a genuinely sweet moment—unlike the Saltburn dance—but it’s once again proof of Keoghan's full commitment to any part he plays. In context, it scores a moment of cathartic revelation, mixing silliness with earnestness. Oh, never fear, there is a dance component too.

Keoghan is only one small part of the landscape of Bird, a movie that will invariably be too weird for some and yet will deeply move others. (Consider me in the latter camp.) But he gives the film some of its most oddly wonderful moments, with his song and his body full of insect tats.

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