Tonight I saw Birdman, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.
Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is a washed-up actor who played a famous superhero in decades past. People in his life (his daughter, his ex-wife) seem to care about him, though his narcissism makes his persona difficult for the audience to embrace.
When we meet him, he's thrown everything that he has into creating a Broadway play in hopes of staging a comeback/feeling important/remaining relevant. In this play are a sparring couple, Lesley (Naomi Watts) and Mike (Norton); both of whom have their issues too. Thomson's daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), fresh from rehab, acts as his reluctant assistant.
As they spiral toward opening night, the theater is in chaos, mostly due to its stars. Thomson and the voice he hears inside his head (strangely sounding just like an early '90s Batman) mixed with the nuttiness of method-actor-Mike, makes the shaky camera work here seem almost necessary.
But it really isn't. In fact, that technique only made the film seem as if it were desperate to remain as relevant as its star. As if the distraction of dizziness would make up for the substance that the story so sorely lacks.
I'm astounded by the praise this film is receiving. I don't take any issue with the performances (though I'd put Norton's ahead of Keaton's in any race), but a screenplay so all over the place shouldn't be mistaken for genius. The special effects and the pretentious speeches take any heart that could have been evident and throw it out the window ... onto a safe ledge, where everyone in this film seems to land.
The saving grace that kept me from throwing in the towel and just walking out was the chemistry between Stone and Norton. Although Stone is distractingly styled to look like an Edward Gorey character, eyes bugging for effect, there is an actual connection between her and Norton in the few scenes they share. Never mind the age difference, these two could be believed as a mismatched, dysfunctional pair that for some reason work.
Unfortunately that wasn't enough for me to jump on the bandwagon and hold this up to other Oscar nominees in the Best Picture category. It's just not that profound.