In the black comedy “Birdman,” Michael Keaton stars as Riggan, a washed-up, former action hero who is grasping at relevance by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story. (The premise of his play is so pretentious that James Franco is kicking himself that he didn’t think of it first.)
Director Alejandro Iñárritu’s electric, yet bizarre, film appears to have been filmed in one long take, which gives it a nice sense of urgency as the audience moves through Riggan’s chaotic life.
Riggan’s career-making character, Birdman, talks to him throughout the film, usually about how much better they are than everyone else. Riggan also believes he can move things with his mind (maybe he can?), as when he makes a spotlight knock out Ralph, an actor in his play he does not like.
Ralph’s replacement is Mike, an obnoxious and difficult method actor played by Edward Norton.
If the movie is a knock at Keaton himself, who once played Batman — or, at least, actors who crave their former glory — then the joke is on Norton, too. His character has a reputation for being difficult on set, which Norton is rumored to be in real life.
Another problem for our hero is his strung-out daughter, Sam, played by a transformed Emma Stone, who Riggan hired as his personal assistant and is the target of Mike’s desire. The always wonderful Naomi Watts rounds out the cast as Lesley, a frantic, earnest stage actress who just wants the play to succeed.
Birdman is the only person — or figment of Riggan’s imagination — who is on Riggan’s side: Sam tells her father that he does not matter; an influential film critic is out to destroy his play; and Mike suggests that he use a real gun when his character shoots himself at the end of the play. It isn’t until the final scene of the movie that we learn whether Birdman is real.
“Birdman’s” script is at once hilarious and tragic. A scene involving Riggan, his tighty-whities and Times Square is particularly humorous, but the anguish on Riggan’s face is heartbreaking. Clearly, the film struck a chord with Hollywood, the very industry the movie is satirizing. “Birdman” netted a well-deserved nine Academy Award nominations, more than any other film this year, including Best Picture, Best Director, a Best Actor nod for Keaton and Best Supporting Actor nominations for Norton and Stone.