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'Birdman' Is Many Things, But Most Of All It's Successful



Birdman is a lot of things besides a story, with a variety of elements and genres-- comedy, drama, psychological study, internal action, external action, possible action, parody, maybe even touches of theatre history. The bit about the actor who goes through the wrong door and locks himself out of the performance teases my memory as something I read about many years ago, in real life.

But it's not confusing, because everything wraps around the problems of theatre and a theatrical career, as Michael Keaton plays an actor trying to revive his career after sacrificing it to a comic-book series about Birdman, back when special effects were notably inadequate. When you see what Birdman looked like, you'l wonder how anybody could have acted in that clumsy costume.

Whether the movie Birdman shares my antipathy toward comic-book movies is unclear, but there's a critic in it who does. The movie is about a stage production and is more about stage theatre than movies. But its aim seems to be less to tell a story than to present various aspects of, and attitudes toward, theatre. It is not as worshipful about performers as shows about showbusiness tend to be, and the characters are not particularly sympathetic, though Edward Norton's character is the only one who is less than likeable.

It never makes clear whether Keaton's character has a lot to offer, or ever did have. There may be good reason why his peak was as an absurdly costumed superhero. Past and present and maybe future morph together, as do reality and the unreal, as when the drummer from the movie's musical score turns up off stage, or when a suicide leap turns into a Spiderman flight. But there is seldom any unclarity about the point.

There's a lot to Birdman, and almost all of it succeeds.