I loved “Biutiful,” the last film by Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. And I was wowed by the trailer for his new film, “Birdman.”
It features Michael Keaton as a washed-up Hollywood star trying to make a comeback on Broadway while working out his relationship with an adult daughter (I have two). The trailer shows off mystical experiences, a big finish, and the pop licks you hear on trailers but never on the soundtrack. This time it was The Animals’ “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.”
Yes! I thought. A movie for me!
What a disappointment.
It turns out that for me to love a movie, there has to be at least once character I bleed for. In “Biutiful,” Javier Bardem played a father dying of prostate cancer whose horrible life is finally redeemed by his love for his children. I bled for him and his two little kids and his alcoholic wife and even the street people of his Barcelona slum.
In “Birdman,” I might have been moved by Riggan Thomson, the father (Keaton), or his daughter fresh out of rehab (Emma Stone) or even the actor’s actor brought in to save the Broadway show (Edward Norton, completely unlikable here).
I didn’t care about any of them. I had the most sympathy for Zach Galafianakis as the aide, agent, and attorney who wears a fitting look of befuddled desperation as he tries to fix all the messes made by his buddy Riggan.
Shot in long single takes, “Birdman” has been hailed for its Godardian artistry, and the many shots of actors wandering lost through the backstage maze of the St. James Theatre are dizzying. But to be dizzy is not to be consoled. I left the cinema at 9:15 last night in a state of emotional emptiness.
“Birdman” is subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.” I saw plenty of lost, ignorant souls on the screen but no virtue.
With my wife away, I’m planning to see “American Sniper” later this weekend. Maybe that will be more consolatory.
If you have to stay home this weekend, I do recommend renting “Biutiful.”