Friday, November 21, 2014

Theater Bugs for "Birdman"


Michael Keaton Soars, Plummets in "Birdman"

By Skip Sheffield

If you love live theater, New York's live theater in particular, you will love “Birdman.” It’s as simple as that.
“Birdman” is Michael Keaton’s comeback tour de force as the title character, Riggan Thomson. Riggan is an actor and a desperate man. Perhaps that is redundant, because all actors endure desperation.
Like the real-life Michael Keaton, who starred in a couple of Tim Burton's Batman movies, Riggan Thomson starred as a superhero called Birdman, named for his ridiculous black bird outfit. He earned tons of money, but in fear of being typecast forever, Thomson walked away from the series. He hasn't worked much since; hence his desperation.
In a last-ditch attempt to rescue his career and self-esteem, Thomson has mortgaged his house and emptied his bank account to book Broadway's fabled St. James Theatre and star in a play based on a Ramond Carver story called "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Could he have chosen a more awkward title?
That's just the start of Thomson's problems. Then his co-star drops out at the last minute. The divorced Thomson's girlfriend Lesley (Naomi Watts) suggests Riggan cast her friend Mike (Edward Norton).
Mike is an ego maniac and self-described "method actor" whose method includes not bothering to read the script.
This is Edward Norton's best comic performance ever. At times he threatens to wrestle the spotlight away from Michael Keaton.
The star remains Michael Keaton, whose many problems include a drug-addled daughter Samantha (Emma Stone) who is fresh out of rehab.
Keaton utterly debases himself in an increasingly wacky black comedy nightmare. There is nothing quite like Keaton in his tighty-whiteys, running through Times Square.
Just about anyone who has ever had the "actor's nightmare" will relate to Riggan's increasing insanity. Mexican-born director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Babel," "Biutiful") pairs high drama with low comedy, often in the same scene.
Many will find "Birdman" overblown and pretentious, but isn't that what theater is all about? If you understand that you will love this film. I sure do.

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