Atsushi Nishijima/Fox Searchlight Pictures
Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)
“Birdman” continues Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s shift from gritty realism toward surrealism, first signaled at the end of “Biutiful.” Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a washed-up actor desperate to shed his signature role in an eponymous ’90s Hollywood superhero franchise by writing, directing and starring in a Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway. What’s surreal is the fact that Riggan does in fact possess Birdman’s superpowers.
The evils that Riggan must battle against include his allegedly pregnant girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough); fresh-out-of-rehab daughter, Sam (Emma Stone); primo-uomo costar, Mike (Edward Norton) and vindictive New York Times theater critic, Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan). Riggan hears his alter ego’s voice in his head, though the film remains coy about whether that’s a symptom of mental illness.
The casting of Mr. Keaton lends the film an air of meta that’s not otherwise there, and makes the proceedings look more inspired than they necessarily are. It’s certainly amusing to watch him parody his former self, but you can’t shake off the fact that it’s more of a stunt — as evidenced by him running in Times Square wearing nothing but tighty whities — than a performance.
It all ends up unexpectedly Altmanesque, with “The Player” and “A Prairie Home Companion” coming to mind. But the film’s running gag — narcissistic, insecure and attention-starved actors — eventually becomes woefully one-note. What it hopes to say about the contentious relationships between art and commerce, highbrow and lowbrow remains seriously underdeveloped.
BIRDMAN OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE
Opens on Oct. 17 in the United States and on Jan. 2, 2015 in Britain
Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu; written by Mr. Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr., and Armando Bo; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Douglas Crise and Stephen Mirrione; music by Antonio Sanchez; production design by Kevin Thompson; costumes by Albert Wolsky; produced by Mr. Iñárritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole; released by Fox Searchlight Pictures and Regency Enterprises. Running time: 1 hour 59 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.
WITH: Michael Keaton (Riggan), Zach Galifianakis (Jake), Edward Norton (Mike), Andrea Riseborough (Laura), Amy Ryan (Sylvia), Emma Stone (Sam), Naomi Watts (Lesley), Lindsay Duncan (Tabitha), Merritt Wever (Annie), Jeremy Shamos (Ralph), Bill Camp (Crazy Man) and Damian Young (Gabriel).