It’s difficult to resist the bird metaphors when reviewing Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance. So I won’t even try. The film soars. It glides and swoops. It rises and dips. It flaps its wings and squawks. It preens and struts. It also lays an egg, but only in the epilogue; and even then it’s still an egg worth cracking open to see what’s inside.
Birdman is easily the most inventive film of the year, and once it snatches you in its beak, it will be hard to shake loose.
Michael Keaton stars as a one-time superstar actor who made a series of box-office juggernauts in which he played a bird-like avenger, cementing his rep as a thinking man’s superhero. But his career quickly dwindled to a few cameos in good films, and a 15-year run in schlock. Now he finds himself in recharge, or desperation mode, depending on whether or not you think it’s a good idea for a Hollywood actor to make his Off Broadway debut in a self-penned adaptation of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, an idea that’s got fool’s gold written all over it.
Except for the part about the play, I could have been describing Keaton’s own filmography, from his brief blip on the blockbuster radar in the first two Batman films to a small role as a cop in Jackie Brown to a string of forgettable pictures such as Jack Frost, White Noise and, my personal fav, Herbie Fully Loaded. Only the names have been changed in Birdman, which may seem like a wearying fable about fame and failure, but is actually a fleet, funny and daring meta-commentary on the self-lacerating insecurities that stalk actors like a flock of buzzards.
You wouldn’t think Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu had a film like this in him. His previous movies, Biutiful, Babel, 21 Grams, and Amores Perros, were not known for their side-splitting hilarity. But hold those pictures up to Birdman and you’ll see the same pretension-be-damned experimentation with structure, the same brutal mood swings from light to dark, the same electrifying camerawork. Iñárritu, for all his wildly imaginative recklessness, is also a control freak. You get the sense that, for a movie that plays as if the whole thing was one long, extended take, he had every sneaky edit mapped out before a single frame was shot.