I eagerly joined the first preview crowd to catch Birdman at the Main Art Theater last Thursday night, but it took me awhile to write it up here. Probably because the film felt like it fell victim to its own hype, while still being a solid and impressive feat.
Michael Keaton stars in a role with deliberate parallels to his well – known Batman alter ego. “Has – been” actor Riggan (Keaton) has chosen to adapt the Raymond Carver story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” for the stage, in a bid to restore his artistic creed to a variety of audiences and prove that he can be a triple-threat actor, writer, director… plus financier and more. He is backed up by a motley crew of associates, including a troubled daughter (Emma Stone), an ex who seems somewhat still interested in him (Amy Ryan), a loyal assistant (Zach Galifianakis) and a trio of actors supporting him on the stage: Edward Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu stages the film in almost one uninterrupted take, a choice that initially was disorienting, exciting for awhile, and ultimately felt like it wore out its welcome. Apparently the actors had to match choreographed movements in order to maintain the fluidity of the visual story. Iñárritu is one of several credited writers on the script, and the story can’t seem to decide if it wants to focus solely on Keaton’s character, Riggan, and his challenges, or show the side of a satirical backstage drama, casting attention on the strong egos and challenges coming from every direction within a theatre production.
The film also includes numerous fantastical elements that initially seem to be a homage to Star Wars, but later take on an unclassifiable approach. Eventually the film itself seemed to become a male – led version of Black Swan, where Keaton, like Natalie Portman’s character in the earlier film, continues to feel competition and torment coming from a wide variety of sources, and struggles with a way to achieve balance. I might have appreciated the film more if it had dared for a darker ending than the one it contains, which felt tacked – on and overly hopeful.
Ultimately the film stands out as a technical achievement and a return to form for the esteemed Keaton, who has called it the most challenging performance of his career. While the supporting cast is not given much time to shine, especially as the film goes on, they do make impressions, especially Norton, Stone and Watts, leading to an ensemble feel and knowing acknowledgment of the challenges and rewards of show business.