Filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman” is the latest movie to take a look at the ins and outs of film stardom and how it can fade as an actor ages. While it may share some parallels, “Sunset Boulevard” this is not.
With its continuous cinematography, an off-kilter jazz drum score and actor Riggan Thomson’s famous film alter-ego barking at him in a perpetually amped-up state, “Birdman” mixes in a bit of surrealism with its dark comedy.
Riggan, two decades after playing superhero Birdman, is mounting a Broadway production of his own adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” He is also the star of the play.
That Riggan is played by Michael Keaton, star of 1989’s “Batman” and 1992’s “Batman Returns,” gives the film and the role a little more gravitas.
“Birdman” may be billed as the triumphant return of Keaton, but it is just as much a showcase for the rest of the actors, including Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan.
As Mike, one of Riggan’s co-stars in the play, Norton is fantastic. It’s been a while since he’s been a standout, but this performance reminds you why he was referred to as one of the best actors of his generation following his breakout performance in “Fight Club.”
His scenes with Keaton and Naomi Watts are great, but those he shares with Stone, who plays Riggan’s daughter, Sam, are near perfect, giving a couple of unexpectedly brilliant moments between two supporting characters in this ensemble-driven piece.
Stone gives one of the best performances of her career as Sam, delicately balancing the frailty and resilience necessary to make the character three-dimensional. Ryan is also quite good as Sylvia, Riggan’s ex-wife and Sam’s mom, and the scenes she shares with Keaton are some of the best in the film.
Galifianakis disappears into the role of Jake, Riggan’s lawyer and co-producer of the play. Don’t expect any “Hangover” antics from the comedian here.
Watts and Andrea Riseborough are Lesley and Laura, the other actors in Riggan’s play. Lesley is Mike’s wife and the catalyst for getting him involved in the play at the beginning of the film, and Laura has been in a relationship with Riggan for the last couple of years. Both of these roles are lacking a little in the depth department, especially alongside Riggan, Mike and Sam.
“Birdman” is getting a lot of awards buzz this year, especially for Keaton, and while it is a good film, it is definitely a victim of being over-hyped.
A lot of people are drawing close parallels between Riggan and Keaton, calling his “Birdman” performance a comeback, which seems to be a bit of an exaggeration. Keaton has had continuous work since he passed on a third “Batman” film, from supporting roles in action films such as “RoboCop” and “Need for Speed” to voicing Ken in the “Toy Story” movies to making his directorial debut with 2008’s “The Merry Gentleman” (in which he also starred).
That said, Keaton is outstanding in “Birdman” and does deserve the accolades he’s sure to receive. The film is starting this awards season off with a bang, and it will be interesting to see how the other contenders - especially those with strong lead actor performances - stack up.
Four stars out of five
MPAA rating: R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Krummey is the features editor at the Herald. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook as ckrummey. You can also reach her at (701) 780-1265; 800-477-6572, ext. 1265; or firstname.lastname@example.org.