Birdman to the Rescue
I admit that when I heard Zach Galifinakis was co-staring in this film, I had my doubts about the movie, but I was impressed with his ability to take on such a serious role and do it well. Gushing about his role in this film is ironic because the movie explores the depression or devastation that Riggan Thomas (Keaton) feels after falling off the public radar. It's sad that Galifinakis has more "relevance" than an actor like Keaton, which is, of course, the type of public critique that this movie is trying to make.
Too often the public rewards actors who lack depth or even talent by going in droves to the types of superhero movie franchizes that this film critiques. Sure, I love a good Spiderman and Batman film as much as the next person, but the acting required for those films is minimal especially given that most of the movie is shot with the superheroe's face covered or that 2/3 of the movie is reduced to CGI action scenes. Birdman shines a light on the ugly side of hollywood which encourages "selling out" to make a buck. Riggan struggles to fight his inner demon (which just so happens to be his superhero alter-ego) that tries to convince him he must return to these big box office roles and foresake the theater if he wants to be acknowledged by an ignorant public apparently incapable of appreciating "real art."
This theme emerges time and again throughout the movie. Riggan's daughter (Stone) tells him that he might as well not exist because he does not have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or a viral video that would resonate with fans in need of daily doses of celebrity gossip. These outlets have nothing to do with acting and yet everything to do with fame, which suggests that fame and art might be adversaries. Riggan implies as much when he tells his daughter that he does not have the time to devote to such antics because he needs that time to rehearse.
Later in the film, a theater critic tells Riggan that she will "kill the play" Riggan is staring in by giving it a bad review despite the fact that she has no intention of watching the performance. When asked why, she responds by saying he is not real actor and thus not entitled to a real review. She tells him he is nothing but an entitled celebrity, again making the assumption that real actors don't play the types of roles that Riggan has in the past: action heroes.
The irony of Keaton and Stone staring in a film that suggests action heroes are sell-outs is not lost me or other critics. While the movie itself seems to critique public appreciation or taste, it certainly proves that Keaton and Stone are able to rise above their superhero pasts and deliver a sharp performance worthy of Oscar recognition. Despite that, this film did not receive the box office sales that the Batman or Spiderman franchizes were able to gross, which also suggests that while these action hero actors and actresses may be fully capable of "real art" the public may be unwilling to watch it.
In conjunction with the idea of celebrity versus acting, the movie raises awareness for the limited roles which exist for people over a certain age. The amount of roles for women beyond the ages of 40 or 50 are minimal in hollywood unless you happen to be Meryl Streep. Even in this film few actresses fit this bill. However, Birdman seems to suggest that roles for men over a certain age are becoming fewer and fewer as well, at least for those unwilling to have a bit of work done. In an attempt to get him to put back on his cape, Birdman reminds Riggan several times that 60 is the 30 especially with the wonders of plastic surgery. While I would argue that roles for men are plentiful even for those of Keaton's age, the idea that agism exists in hollywood is certainly true.
For its critique of Hollywood as well as the viewing public, I give this film 3 popcorn buckets.