birdmanBIRDMAN opens with a fireball streaking across the sky. Or is it an alien burning up in our atmosphere? Or is a phoenix rising? The last seems to be a metaphor for Michael Keaton’s character. Keaton is Riggan Thompson. He played BIRDMAN in a superhero franchise that netted him millions, a house in Malibu (maybe other places, not really clear here) an ex-wife and a daughter (Emma Stone) just our of rehab. But Riggan abandoned all that years ago and seems to have dropped off the map. But he is trying to rise again (like the phoenix) by writing, directing, producing and staring in an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s collection of short stories “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. That is kind of the theme of this whole story. Love versus admiration versus simply falling off the fucking map and not even registering on the radar of celebrity. Riggan is the latter. But he wants the former, but you get the feeling he’ll settle for the middle. He just wants to be relevant, to not be alone with, well… him. Because when he’s alone he hears the voice of Biridman (kind of a drunker sounding Christian Bale as Batman) and can just will shit to fly across the room, or spin on a table, you get the idea. He’s deep in some psychosis born of lost celebrity. How Keaton and director/co-writer Alejandro Gonzalez-Inarritu extricate him from this spiral is a helluva ride. The movie borders on being meta, but not in an uncomfortable or eye rolling manner. It’s a movie about a play about love and death which is what the movie is about to begin with. Follow? Don’t worry, you will. Gonzalez-Inarritu skillfully keeps all the plates spinning while delving deep into Riggan’s damaged psyche. Riggan is forced to hire Edward Norton, a Broadway star who is completely together on stage and a complete mess off it. Riggan’s daughter is there for any number of reasons. So he can be the father he never was, so she doesn’t relapse back to rehab, or just to be a constant reminder of what a fuck-up he has been. Actually it’s all of the above. The dialogue is witty and clever.. sharp and convincing, especially when spoken by Keaton, Stone or Norton. The cast is all very good, but those three stand out. Keaton is magical. You remember that this guy was once a really good actor. What happened to that guy (notice a parallel to the story)? The scenes dealing with the production of the play have an old Hollywood musical vibe that feels comfy and familiar. Keaton’s Riggan is searching throughout the movie. He thinks this is a way to earn the love of his fans again, or the love of his daughter and to finally put BIRDMAN in his past. But you cannot escape the past. It’s always there, reminding you of what you did and how you fucked it up. He’s searching for love and meaning and relevance. But he’s looking in all the wrong places. One excellent scene has Riggan confronting the New York Times’ theater critic who can close a play with one bad review. He lets her have it about how venal and trivial critics can be. But it has little impact on her as she promises to close his play after one night. This film is genius and Keaton is brilliant, Oscar-worthy. Riggan may not fly again as BIRDMAN, but this serves notice that Keaton’s star should once again soar. — Alan Yudman


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