You Can Fly, You Can Fly, You Can Fly!!!
At the chockablock Q&A after the final New York Film Festival press screening, director/co-writer/co-producer Alejandro G. Ińárritu and seven heavyweight stars had a good old time of it, loose, laughing and joking onstage, just as they had been for two-hours-less-a-minute onscreen. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is funny (and fun), but also dark funny. Emotional as well as physical ups and downs, tragedy and melodrama and comedy, hate and love, disappointment and triumph, smart-phone snapshot celebrity and washed-up-edness, sex, impotence and a nose job, supernatural magic powers and magic realism, and a tad of pomposity, are pretty smoothly juxtaposed and meshed thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s camera which captures it all as if in one continuous take from St. James Theater hallways to wings and center stage boards to Times Square to balconies, rooftops and bird’s-eye views.
The play’s the thing -- at the same time that it isn’t, really -- wherein middle-ageing over-the-hill action hero Riggan Thomson (ex-Batman Michael Keaton) hopes to catch recognition as a serious actor instead of the toe-to-head-costumed one-dimensional evergreen hero whose story was told in two Birdman features. A rough-voiced ego (Keaton, hoarse) nags him to forget such artsy nonsense, accept a proffered surefire Birdman III rôle, and be happy with his proven movie chops denigrated by waspish New York Times barfly theater critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan).
The insecure actor has written and is directing a stageplay based on and titled from Raymond Carver’s 1981 story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” in which he is to play the older of its two husbands, Ed. In between private moments of levitation and telekinetic powers that he accepts without wonder, he needs to deal with three costars’ fragile egos. Taken aboard when a falling light crowns the original actor, obnoxious Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) considers himself smarter than the work and its performers but has sexual performance problems, notably with insecure Lesley (Naomi Watts), an ex of his with whom he is supposed to cuckold Ed onstage; the fourth character is insecure Laura (Andrea Riseborough), with whom Riggan has been dallying offstage, as a result of which she claims to be pregnant.
Riggan’s producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) is losing his cool; his ex-wife (Amy Ryan, as Sylvia) loves him but has given him up for hopeless; and his wardrobe-person daughter Sam (Emma Stone) is disenchanted with him but trying to get him started on social media and Facebook “Likes” and, tattooed and only recently rehabbed, smokes weed and is not above getting it on with Mike.
It would sound as though too much is packed into these couple days and nights sandwiching a hilarious disastrous preview performance and Riggan’s even more hilarious lockout and leading up to chockablock Opening Night. (The film is NYFF feel-great Closing Night.) For those going with the flow, it should not matter that, as in the stageplay within the screenplay, not everything fits together according to strict logic. If you believe you can fly, why then you can.
Sam’s closing uplifted face conveys the love, the admiration and the wonder often absent in entertainment and life.
(Released by Fox Searchlight and rated “R” for language throughout, sexual content and brief violence.)