Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue @ The Ross

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) heckled by his past, Birdman

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) heckled by his past, Birdman

What happens, then, when that yearning for artistic accomplishment has manifested beyond your wildest dreams but begins its nadir once the fickle public considers it passe and overdone? I will tell you what happens: that previous success will haunt you to such an extent, that plain old living will begin to ache all through your being. It will cause you to act in all kinds of uncomplimentary ways; it even will kill you. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue explores this evil that stalks every celebrity has been: the chase of the will ‘o’ the wisp called the comeback! The film stars Michael Keaton, who plays Riggan Thomson, an actor who became famous for portraying the superhero Birdman three times two decades earlier. Riggan is going for the comeback not in film but on New York’s Broadway stage in a play he adapts for theater from a collection of short stories by American short story writer and poet Raymond Carver. The play is called, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Here, Riggan anticipates revitalizing his career and receiving respectability among his fellow colleagues.

Riggan and Mike (Ed Norton) disagree backstage

Riggan and Mike (Ed Norton) disagree backstage

Much of Birdman is shot in the bowels of the St. James Theater on West 44th Street, where we experience the director’s angst over the audience reception of the play, an egomaniac co-star, the make or break review from the theater critic, masterfully handled by Lindsay Duncan, and … of course … rehearsals. Iñárritu flawlessly folds within the narrative a critique of society’s preoccupation with the superhero in film and how this obsession eclipses if not beats to death the realities of the actor’s human experience; eventually, it undermines an actor’s ability to breathe life into new creative endeavors. Birdman verbally taunts Riggan for turning down Birdman 4, as did Michael Keaton who turned down Batman 3, and the gibes eventually get the best of Riggan, the actor.

Riggan and Lesley (Naomi Watts) discuss family issues

Riggan and Lesley (Naomi Watts) discuss family issues

Birdman is a good film, but Iñárritu fails to explore fully the unexpected virtue; ending the film instead with an expected moment when the present achievement won by Riggan Thomson beats back his Birdman past.

Birdman plays through December 18 at The Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

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