NOTA BENE!!! Not to be confused with the 1962 Frankenheimer classic, Birdman of Alcatraz.
We don’t meet the title character of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s 2014 Birdman until around the fortieth minute, when he is pictured striding along West 49th, near M&M’s World, deep in conversation with the protagonist Michael Keaton, his best friend and seemingly the only person who can see him or hear him. Superhero Birdman in his black cape and beaked hood, with Spidermanesque chiseled lips and chin, lycra tights, vulcanized crotch codpiece, and buttercup offgold velcro gauntlets, wants his friend Michael to drop the pretentious Broadway play he is writing-directing so that Michael can portray superhero Birdman in a sequel to the 1993 blockbuster that made them both famous.
This abrupt, passionate exchange is ultimately a letdown. Superhero Birdman, by far the best character in this movie, is seen so little in the precious remaining minutes that the producers could be sued for false advertising. Is The English Patient about a nurse? Does Ted feature its titular teddy bear for only two minutes and thirty-five seconds? Was Mr. Bean Goes On Holiday about Willem Dafoe’s pretentious movie, with the hapless Bean appearing only as a tantalizing apparition? You get the point: the director took a big swing and miss. The good news is, the ending leaves things completely open for a sequel — which will be worth making, because I think there is real potential there.
Leaving superhero Birdman shortchanged and neglected, we follow Michael Keaton from his internationally acclaimed Gotham City street into the Broadway basement where he will attempt to redeem the popularist sins of his past by becoming a legitimate actor. After receiving lessons from his attorney and boyfriend, Zach Galifianakis, he immediately bumps into his old understudy-turned-film-critic who lambasts him for first being part of the Hollywood machine and then leaving superhero Birdman. The director clearly has no time within the confines of this single shot documentary — the perfect choice for this abstract tangle of human emotions and conflicting desires that even the noblest of us have felt — for unconstructive criticism. Me neither! That’s the sort of critic who gives critics a bad name.
Filmed in a single afternoon, this missed masterpiece is supported by Edward Norton fresh from his successful Waiting For Godot tour opposite Benedict Cumberbatch and the true heroine of Birdman, Emma Stone. Both support Keaton with solid but somewhat baffling and almost semi-scripted contributions. But what is Birdman? Is it an ironic documentary, or is it really the fever fantasy of Michael Keaton and his director, who are hoaxing superhero Birdman’s comeback with Keaton feigning interest, as some kind of cruel statement of postmodern cinema?
Either way, you will agree that Michael Keaton in his underwear has the body of Zeus — until he shoots his nose off in the end in a heart-wrenching attempt to look like his superhero friend.
As a final note, seriously, doesn’t his new nose make him look like James Caan?
2 out of 5 puppies.