Back in the ’90s, the superhero of the hour was Birdman. Birdman was a massive box office smash, the franchise ran for three films and made Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) a major star.
But now his hero days are over and Thompson is a has-been desperate to recapture some credibility by putting on a Broadway play called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
But Birdman has never really left Thompson and he still ‘speaks’ to him from his subconscious via hallucinations – kinda like a superhero Gollum who taunts him to return to his blockbuster film series and forget his Broadway dreams. Oh, and he’s also given to thinking he can fly and move objects with his mind. Maybe it’s the stress of having a high-maintenance leading man for his play in Mike (Edward Norton), an on/off flirtation with his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), a possibly pregnant girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and a daughter with a drug problem, Sam (Emma Stone).
Throw into the mix influential arts critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), who tells Thompson that she “hates Hollywood celebrities who pretend to be actors”, and promises she will “kill” his play with a negative review and stand back as the fireworks kick off.
The resulting meltdown is a visceral, vital viewing experience – you literally can’t look away as the tension cranks up in the run- up to opening night.
Keaton is on top form and must surely be in with an Oscar shout in the lead role, but all the cast go for it with manic energy and the result is a film that grips you, traumatises you in the best possible way and then leaves you wondering what just happened.
The underlying ‘art versus entertainment’ struggle is deftly handled (the delicious irony of a movie about a play, championing the virtue of art by leaving the world of cinema behind is exquisite).
This is a film for art lovers and films fans alike – a must see!