DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

BIRDMAN or (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE) (director/writer: Alejandro G. Iñárritu; screenwriters: Nicolás Giacobone/Alexander Dinelaris Jr./Armando Bo; cinematographer: Emmanuel Lubezki; editors: Douglas Crise/Stephen Mirrione; music: Antonio Sanchez; cast: Michael Keaton (Riggan Thomson), Zach Galifianakis (Jake), Edward Norton (Mike), Andrea Riseborough (Laura), Amy Ryan (Sylvia), Emma Stone (Sam), Naomi Watts (Lesley), Merritt Wever (Annie), Jeremy Shamos (Ralph), Bill Camp (Crazy Man), Damian Young (Gabriel), Lindsay Duncan (Tabitha, critic); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: R; producers: ; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2014)

"A novel riotous risk-taking black comedy on the whims of showbiz."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A novel riotous risk-taking black comedy on the whims of showbiz. It's directed with slyness by Mexican visionary filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu ("Amores Perros"/"Biutiful"/"Babel") and co-written with cheekiness by the director, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo. It has the down on his luck actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, who ironically played the caped superhero Batman on film twice), who when young was a narcissist sitting on top of the world playing the comic book superhero Birdman to great applause in its successful trilogy movie run. The now insecure and self-doubting Riggan, turns down a fourth installment of Birdman and, even if he never before performed on Broadway, places all hopes on climbing back to the top by starring, directing and writing a Broadway play he calls  "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," at the St. James Theatre. The opportunity for a comeback and to gain artistic respectability through success on Broadway is offered him by the play's short story author Raymond Carver, who once tickled his fancy by passing onto him a cocktail napkin that said, "Thank you for an honest performance. Ray Carver."

In addition to concerns about his career pursuits the has-been actor, while trying to reinvent himself and get out of bankruptcy, deals with coming to terms with his estranged, feisty and embittered daughter Sam (Emma Stone), just out of rehab; his new girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough); and his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan).

To add to Riggan's worries, as he prepares for the show's opening, a pretentious scene-stealing actor named Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is a last minute replacement for the lead ensemble actor, who is injured on the set. The arrogant and loud Mike upsets the direction of the show and drives Riggan crazy. Others involved in the Broadway production include the idealistic ingenue Lesley (Naomi Watts), whose boyfriend is Mike Shiner, and Riggan's lawyer best friend and manager, the producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis).

The comedic actor Keaton plays it straight and gives a truly great layered performance that gets to his character's depth.

The arty conceits work better for Iñárritu in this more subversive and biting backstage melodrama and dark comedy than they did in the filmmaker's other films. Here, the striking humor, the well-placed insider jokes, the seductive Manhattan setting and the troublesome contemplation of ambition, all enticingly come together because it's beautifully acted by the ensemble, strongly directed and wonderfully photographed by the great cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki.

REVIEWED ON 11/22/2014       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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