Rarely in our age of ‘Dumb and Dumber’ sequels (want to see Jeff Daniels punch Jim Carrey repeatedly in the crotch, anyone?), a movie would come out of left field that not only feels refreshingly new but takes us by surprise with its wit, charm and laid-bare honesty. Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu’s (21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) eccentric and propulsive if somewhat garrulous indie anti-superhero film ‘Birdman' (aka 'The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance’) is such a film. While ‘Birdman’ may never enjoy the commercial success at the box office it deserves even as it generates Oscar buzz, it provides us with a glimmer of hope that Hollywood is only creatively bankrupt 99 percent of the time.
In his most daring performance to date, ‘80’s era ‘Batman’ Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, an aging actor desperately trying to recapture his past glory and stay relevant in a profession where you’re considered ‘old’ when you hit 35. Doing what many washed up actors no longer employable in Hollywood would presumably do, he decides to produce and star in his own Broadway play, in this case an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.’ Part Broadway satire, part Seinfeld-esque ‘Show About Nothing’ dramedy and part ‘Black Swan’ psychological headtrip, ‘Birdman’ gives us an intoxicating and humorous look at the trials of a man who may or may not have telekinetic powers, may or may not be able to fly, and who may well be delusional as he occasionally bickers with his former alter ego ‘Birdman’ in costume.
Nothing about ‘Birdman’ is conventional, whether it’s the film’s long continuous shots with few noticeable breaks, the improv feel to the acting, or its jazzy drums soundtrack. The snappy dialogue and fine acting from Keaton, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough are engaging and ‘real,’ as we peer into their characters’ lives and experience their hopes and dreams, their struggles and anxieties. The ever charming Emma Stone, as Riggan’s drug rehabbing daughter Sam, is an eye-opener in particular with her witticisms and mature outlook on life, not to mention she manages to steal every scene she’s in where I’m concerned.