Sometimes that predilection yields a classic like “The Player” or even the underrated “The TV Set.”
It also fueled “Action,” the Fox drama that died a short, painless death.
“Birdman” offers a cutting view of both the creative process and the deeply flawed people bringing art to the public square. It’s also endlessly smug, admiring its flawed protagonists while arching an intellectually superior eyebrow at suckers satiated by superhero films.
That’s precisely how Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) became a superstar. His “Birdman” franchise made him a legend, but now he wants to tear it all down and prove he’s an artist underneath the cowl. He’s producing, starring and writing a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story, and darned if everything that could go wrong does in the days before the show opens.
His co-star is so awful Riggan stages his exit in gruesome fashion. That brings on Mike (Edward Norton) a brilliant but deeply troubled replacement.
Riggan and Mike clash, but the real battle is between Riggan and the voices in his head. It’s Birdman, his fragile ego and the flights of fancy that find him levitating in his apartment or soaring over New York City like a bird … or a plane.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu, whose views on the superhero genre are ghastly and unfair, gives his film a subtitle worthy of derision.
“Birdman, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.”
It’s a smug joke that Iñárritu may not even get. Perhaps he should watch his own film. That jazzy score sounds wonderful at first until 20 minutes in when you realize it’s both hopelessly pretentious and here to stay. The camera even shows the drummer behind the music, another slice of meta richness that will leave audiences feeling bloated.
Isn’t it enough that Keaton’s career parallels Riggan’s to delicious Bat effect?
Keaton is very good here, but there’s something so perfectly awful about his behavior that a wall, albeit a paper thin one, exists between him and the viewer. Norton and Emma Stone, playing Riggan’s troubled daughter, deliver more connective performances. Stone enriches her hastily conceived character, making a casual shrug into a commentary on Riggan as a father figure.
Keaton, swapping out wigs, wardrobe and even underear, bares everything he can in this comeback role. He even darts through a NYC city street in his tighty whities, part of a silly but energized sequence.
“Birdman” is full of those moments, larger than life snippets that dazzle with their audacity.
What “Birdman” struggles to do is connect Riggan’s deterioated condition to the rest of us. One must assume the director may not care about that lost connection.
DID YOU KNOW: Michael Keaton’s real name is Michael John Douglas, but he changed his last name to Keaton to avoid confusion with the famous son of actor Kirk Douglas. Keaton toyed with the name Michael Jackson briefly based on a childhood nickname but decided against it.