Rating:Around the turn of the century, three Mexican filmmakers made cinematic waves with three very exciting indie films. Alfonso Cuarón, who directed the tragi-comedy Y Tu Mamá También would go on to direct a Harry Potter picture and two well-regarded sci-fi movies. Guillermo del Toro, who released his masterful Spanish Civil War ghost story, The Devil’s Backbone, hit critical and box office gold with Pan’s Labyrinth, before falling into making loud, soulless action movies. Meanwhile, the third member of the trio, Alejandro González Iñárritu, broke out with the gory and somewhat lugubrious Amores Perros, then made the fractured and lugubrious (and star-studded) 21 Grams and Babel, before returning back to Spanish with the plodding and lugubrious Biutiful.
González Iñárritu returns with Birdman, his first comedy, but don’t worry, this one is also extremely lugubrious (and it even has a pompous subtitle). Starring Michael Keaton as a washed up Hollywood actor who is best known for playing a superhero but is now mounting a play, Birdman is like one of those smug millennials who have made themselves critic-proof by always doing the right thing. You agree with everything González Iñárritu is trying to say in Birdman, but it is so incredibly self-satisfied, you want to do nothing more than disagree.
More Noises Off… than Batman, Birdman does feature an excellent performance by Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up actor who is haunted by the voice of the character that has defined his career. Straining to break free from the clutches of superhero movies, Thompson has written, produced and directed a play based on Raymond Carver’s short stories in a last ditch stab at legitimacy. However, everything seems to be going wrong. Thompson spars with his co-stars, struts and frets around the theater’s backstage corridors and even grapples with a critic who swears to bury the play just because movie actors have no business stepping onto a Broadway play. We get it, González Iñárritu, true artists create. Faux ones make superhero movies.
Don’t blame the actors for this disaster. Keaton gives his best performance in years while Edward Norton and Naomi Watts are admirable as his beleaguered (and beleaguering) co-stars. It’s too bad that González Iñárritu’s script (co-written with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr. and Armando Bo) feels like a leaden piece of shit squeezed out by a pretentious art school kid. Even its cultural references (stories about George Clooney and other celebrities) are too on the nose, forced and hollow. And bravo for making the critic (Lindsay Duncan) callow and spiteful. Someone needs to keep out-of-control egos in check, but I suppose anything I say against the film is because I live an unremarkable life.
The other day, Disney and Marvel rolled out their phase three world domination schedule. Superhero movies will rule the box office for years to come. González Iñárritu does not like this development. Neither do I. I may have disliked Birdman, but I hated The Avengers more. But you can beat a dead horse for only so long. Two hours of Birdman is 110 minutes too many.