By Grant Suneson
Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is not a superhero movie. It’s a movie about what happens to superheroes after they hang up their masks. The film centers around Riggan Thompson, (Michael Keaton) a washed up actor best known for playing Birdman who attempts to mount a comeback by starring in a play he writes and directs. But when he loses a cast member right before the play is set to debut, he’s forced to bring on veteran Broadway actor Mike Shiner(Edward Norton). Thompson is forced to make adjustments to his play, all while dealing with a frustrated girlfriend, an upset ex-wife and a bitter daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone) all while Thompson’s flustered friend/ manager Jake (Zach Galifianakis) tries to hold the play together.
The film really shines when Norton and Keaton share the screen, possibly because both actors are cast to play slightly altered versions of themselves. Keaton as an aging former A-lister who’s never been able to escape the shadow of a character he once played. And Norton as a picky method actor who’s unsatisfied by mediocrity.
‘Birdman’ wrestles with the concept of whether it’s better to be famous or talented throughout. The dark comedy pokes fun at viral video fame and pretentious theater goers all while Riggan tries to turn his play into a success. He tries desperately to prove himself as a legitimate actor, despite a nagging voice in his head imploring him to sell out for fame and fortune.
The film is shot beautifully, especially considering much of it occurs in the small, cramped hallways below a New York City theater. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu utilizes long tracking shots, twisting down corridors tracing the back and forth movement of the characters.
The movie can drag at times when it loses track of the central theme in an attempt to build relationships between characters, including a pointless plot line between Mike and Riggan’s daughter Sam.
The script is terrific and all the actors, most notably Keaton, do a great job. Expect this movie to get some buzz around Oscar time, since there’s nothing that Hollywood loves more than a film about making movies. But any awards will be well deserved. Birdman is a fascinating exploration of fame that’s not to be missed .