Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) used to be a movie star. He used to be Birdman, a superhero who became a blockbuster trilogy. Wanting to be taken seriously, Riggan turned down Birdman 4. Unable to get out of the shadow of Birdman, his career and life has gone downhill ever since. His attempt at a comeback is the focus of Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), a surrealistic Meta satire of modern entertainment with enough themes to stuff a Charles Dickens book.
On a New York stage, Riggan has put all of his money and hopes on his play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk about When We Talk about Love. He is also writing and directing the play. He seems to have put his sanity on the line as the voice of Birdman keeps insulting him and insists on doing a Birdman comeback. Though judging by Riggan’s face on the front doors and his monologues, it might be an ego trip for him. Meanwhile, his daughter Sam (Emma Stone) has returned from rehab to assist him with the play. So while he’s writing, directing and starring in a play while keeping his sanity together, he’s also trying to reconnect to his family.
It’s preview night and already there are problems. They barely start rehearsal before a costar (Jeremy Shamos) gets knocked out by a falling light. Aw Well, Riggan regarded him as a terrible actor. “The blood coming out of his ear was the most honest thing he’s done so far.” At the last minute comes Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a seeming saving grace who comes in already knowing every line and ready to go. Having worked with Shiner herself, Riggan’s costar Lesley (Naomi Watts) regards Mike as trouble. Riggan soon learns the hard way why when Mike flips at him during the first preview night. Turns out Mike is an obsessed method actor so into his work than in a disturbing scene, he attempts to force himself on Lesley during a live performance to better simulate a sex scene. And then things start going downhill from here.
This film is the first American comedy from Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, director of artistic drama 21 Grams and Babel. The tone of the film can be perfectly summed up with one scene where Riggan locks himself out of the stage and has to run across Time Square in his underwear to get back in. And he’s bombarded. The characters are pathetic in their own way, and yet they also have strengths. Mike may be a total snob and too obsessed with method acting, but he does understand Broadway and delivers on his performance. Lesley asks herself “Why don’t I have any self-respect? But she has enough self-respect to refuse to be violated on stage. Sam berates her father in a powerful speech, calling out his hatred of social media and need for relevance and yet is still with him to the end. The Birdman films remain a shadow over Riggan’s career and yet it is when he accepts the identity as Birdman that he finally succeeds.
The only one dimensional characters in this film are reporters and critics. When not asking about Birdman, reporters ask him awkward questions including about a rumour of him injecting his face with something unmentionable. One powerful critic wants to skewer the play despite never having seen it just because she hates Riggan. A one dimensional character, sure but Keaton does get a great speech calling her out for resorting to labels and having no conversation about structure or intention.
Everyone involved is at their A-game in Birdman. Fresh off of Gravity, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki keeps the camera going with dazzling image after dazzling image. Antonio Sanchez haunts the screen with his all-drum musical score. Writers Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo fill the screen with enough themes to fill an evening. The actors deliver on their performances, especially Keaton who really showcases his acting range. Boyhood may be the favourite to win the Best Picture, but Birdman is most likely to steal that Oscar from that little film.
 Laura’s response; “You’re an actress, Honey.”