As art imitates life imitating art, Batman-alum Keaton plays faded movie star Riggan Thomson, formerly famous for playing superhero "Birdman". Absent from everyone's celebrity radar for a couple of decades—but still subjected to Birdman's inner taunting—Thomson is staging a comeback by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love".
Thomson is haunted not only by Birdman, but also by a cluster of conflicted relationships: his estranged wife (Amy Ryan), girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough), pistol-of-a-daughter (Emma Stone), and best friend/producer (Zach Galifianakis). Then there is the star of the play, vapid method actor Mike Shiner (wonderfully played by Ed Norton), and the play itself, which is simply not going well.
It took me two days after the closing credits to decide if I even liked this flick. Ultimately I decided that it's incredible, and I can't wait to see it again. Just the presence of these actors—Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Edward Norton—is an amazement, and their performances individually and as an ensemble are stellar.
Similar to even the best abstract art, this movie is not for everyone. It comes in oddly sized pieces, it's messy, and—as my brain found out—some internal assembly is required if you absolutely must make sense of it all. It is, by turns, hilarious and dark.
Keaton's performance—and by the way, not unlike his character, where the hell has he been the last two decades?—is my pick of the litter for best actor win. He does not bring the physicality and transformation of Bradley Cooper in American Sniper or Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything. But he is raw and real and surreal, delivering a visceral impression of digging to the emotional center of the planet.
If you are on the fence about this one, but have the least bit of curiosity about it and any desire to broaden your cinematic universe—at least give it a whirl once it goes to video.
"Marvel" at this trivia:
- Three of these Birdman actors have appeared in superhero movies—Keaton (Batman), Norton (Incredible Hulk), and Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man).
- Birdman's original music score (fabulous, IMHO) was disqualified as an Oscar contender. Read the story here*.
- For an inside peek at how the drummer and director created this wildly divergent music score with elite methods and dumbed-down instruments, read this.
*My favorite quote: "There is a fairly widespread sense that the [Academy's] music branch — which is comprised of 244 members, many of whom are quite elderly and some of whom haven't written a note of music in decades — is a bit narrow-minded, perhaps a tad out of touch and doesn't always adjudicate disputes in a consistent manner. "