Review: Birdman

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s previous films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) aren’t exactly known for their humour, and yet his latest is a brilliant comedy of the darkest kind, with a host of fine players led by the pretty picky Michael Keaton, who’s never been better.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s previous films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) aren’t exactly known for their humour, and yet his latest is a brilliant comedy of the darkest kind, with a host of fine players led by the pretty picky Michael Keaton, who’s never been better. Riggan Thomas (Keaton) is an ageing movie star known for three cheesy Birdman movies who’s now, 20 years later, trying to be a serious actor by starring in and financing a Broadway stage version of Raymond Carver’s short story collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (and the fact that Keaton was Batman 20-odd years ago is a terrific in joke too). He seems to be losing it (he believes he’s telekinetic and is viciously insulted by his superhero alter ego), but he’s nevertheless desperate for credibility, no matter what happens and how those around him make life complicated. His out-of-rehab daughter Sam (Emma Stone) rolls her eyes; his best friend and agent Jake (Zach Galifianakis) frets; his female leads Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and Lesley (Naomi Watts from 21 Grams) agonise his disappointed ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) is in the wings; and his up-himself last-minutereplacement male lead Mike (Edward Norton, parodying his reputation as a difficult actor) ruins a preview. But Riggan remains optimistic and on the wagon, whether he’s facing off with a feared critic (Lindsay Duncan, excellent), being sworn at by Birdman, or finding himself in the middle of a nightmarishly funny, only in-New-York comic set piece. Technically astounding, with its dizzy long takes and (almost) invisible cuts, Birdman (actually Birdman Or: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is that rare movie where every performance is spot-on and every joke, regardless of how harsh, works beautifully. Few major-star-filled, American-produced efforts would dare to be this outrageously anti-Hollywood, and so happily crap all over the Dream Factory.  

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