Positioning himself on a metalevel just above the business and times he is commenting on, Alejandro Iñárritu gives us an askew look at the flip side of show-business in general and movie-stardom in particular. His look takes the format of black comedy, but is more black than comedy, really, as we get to know one Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), once one of Hollywood's biggest box-office stars as the superhero Birdman, now down on his luck both domestically (divorced) and professionally – having possibly bitten off more than he can chew by trying to write, produce and star in his first ever Broadway play. The echoes to real-life Keaton are almost painfully obvious at first sight, but never feels true in a deeper sense. In other words, we never feel that Keaton is risking much – something his character deems as the number one virtue. That being said, Keaton plunges himself into his first leading-role in six years with full conviction, but he's quickly on his own against the elements: Iñárritu's fancy camerawork and the shallowness of the script.
Now, one could claim that this shallowness reflects the business and the world around it, which may be a fair point. But if so, the satire, which is valid and at times biting, should have made more of an impact. The film wants to give the impression that it's offering a reality-check for actors and audiences alike, but it's a flippant, elementary reality-check which eludes every possibility to go into depth. Instead we're often left with simple dichotomies such as critical acclaim vs. fame, art vs. entertainment, age vs. youth. And even though Iñárritu has some interesting observations, he has already said everything he has to say when he's got half-an-hour left of his film.
And so we're left with the moving, continuous camerawork, which is technically amazing and quite often filmatically effective. What it probably also does, however, is cripple the performances, all of which feel stiffer and more mechanical than they should. There's great talent at work here, but much like Riggan Thomson himself, Birdman has a hard time convincing everyone that it's fully-fledged.