Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

Director:  Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writers:  Alejandro González Iñárritu (screenplay), Nicolás Giacobone (screenplay
Stars:  Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan
Running Time:  119 mins.

And now for something completely different … this season’s “Birdman” starring Michael Keaton in a perfectly dark and humor-filled performance as the once iconic superhero Birdman trying to recreate himself as a serious Broadway actor.  

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) recently turned down the 4th installation of the Birdman franchise and instead is trying to launch a dramatic play in which he’s directing and starring.  At the same time he’s trying to reestablish something of a relationship with daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who just completed a stint in rehab and is now serving as his assistant.  

As for the play, it’s one disaster after another leading up to opening night. 

When his co-star gets injured during a rehearsal, Riggan finds a replacement in crazed method actor super jerk Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) to round out the cast which includes lead actress and Broadway first-timer Lesley (Naomi Watts), and Laura (Andrea Riseborough), the woman with whom Riggan’s having a sexual relationship.  

What none of them know is that Riggan is delusional in that he’s always being tormented by his alter ego, Birdman, in voiceover and occasionally in full bird costume, fostering self-doubt by telling him alternately that he’s no good or too good and that he should go back to being the superhero he was meant to be.  His life is in shambles and he’s trying desperately to claw his way to at least level ground.

The movie explores the themes of identity, expression, artistic integrity, career, family values and the meaning of one’s life in a bizarre and occasionally frenetic visual fashion offset by an invigorating drum beat reminiscent of the film “All That Jazz” which is used throughout the film.

Lotta says Keaton’s and Norton’s performances are energetic and compelling as both struggle to find some truth in their existences.  The rest of the cast is impeccable.  It’s a gorgeous production with stunning cinematography whether navigating the darkened claustrophobic halls and catwalks of the historic St. James Theater or the expansive skies above the streets of Manhattan as Birdman soars.  The only false note is the final scene — writer/director Iñárritu can’t set it up that Riggan is hallucinating and then pull the rug out from under us — doesn’t make sense.  Other than that, it’s one of THE films to see this season.