HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED to know: “Birdman” is a great movie. See it and you will likely want to see it again. Michael Keaton gives a searing, Oscar-worthy performance as a mentally disturbed actor clinging to the last shreds of his fading career. Twenty years after achieving stardom as the title character in a series of vacuous blockbuster hits, he’s producing and directing a play starring himself and a motley collection of fellow thespians. Edward Norton plays a big-deal star who is next in line as craziest actor and potential Oscar winner, brought in after someone else literally gets knocked out of the play.
Also on hand are Birdman’s fragile, fresh-from-rehab daughter (Emma Stone) who apparently hates him, his ex-wife who still cares but not enough to save him from his manic self-hatred, and his best friend and straight man, the newly slim Zach Galifianakis, who is just as good playing serious as he is playing the fool.
Only the audience hears the chastising voice in Birdman’s head, the one telling him how much he sucks. And he’s not alone: All the other poor souls who earn their living as actors also suck. Each one of them is a quivering mass of insecurities, desperate for self-validation from an adoring audience and terrified of a bad review from an acerbic theater critic from the Times.
Although the subject matter is dark and dangerous, with suicide always an option, somehow it’s all a blast. Neurotic actors–this one sleeping with that one and that one cheating on the other–along with hysterical pregnancies, physical fisticuffs and venomous backstabbing add up to a rollicking good time for the viewer. The action takes place this minute, on Broadway, with a fascinating look at the world of the theater, both inside and out. The dim, narrow corridors, the glow of the footlights and the crowded dressing rooms suddenly give way to flights of fancy as Birdman reclaims his former super-persona and flies over Manhattan’s taxi-clogged streets or struts through crowded Times Square in his underwear due to a slapstick mishap.
Yet another wild element adding to the party is the score: It’s edgy and jumpy, jazzy and eclectic, keeping you moving in your seat like you just downed a double espresso. And every so often it’s cheekily in your face, with one of the musicians, drums and all, stuck right in the middle of things. He’s in the movie, not in the play, even though he’s right there in the play. Don’t ask what’s real and what’s imagined, just watch it and have fun.
Andrea Rouda, who blogs at “Call Me Madcap,” is a frequent MyLittleBird contributor.