A washed-up ex A-lister sinks his name and fortune on a production of a Raymond Carver story. He's rented the theater, written the script. He will direct, star, and hold interviews with the press until opening night arrives and puts his life on the line. He's the man known for three superhero franchise flicks, recognized on the street as "Birdman" and in his personal life as a failed husband, an inattentive father, and a frail mess of ego-wrapped nerves. This is Riggan Thomson as brought to life by Michael Keaton, one time Batman, long time missing-in-action character actor. Much has been made of the way Birdman plays, at times, like a sort of meta-narrative driven by our associatons between Keaton and Riggan. More has been made of Keaton's return to a leading role, but there are things that Birdman is and things too that give it more credit than it perhaps deserves.
Birdman ultimately panders to these low-grade, often soapy dramas when it should do just the opposite: one man, one delusion, one battle against self (and Ed Norton). The rest, while occasionally entertaining, is distraction and background noise. The further the film splits between Riggan's psychology and the lives of other characters, the more we accumulate loose threads that lead to questions the film doesn't have time for. Curiously, when Innaritu does make time, we often find that the answers aren't worthwhile. As the film builds and the drums pound toward a dramatic conclusion, the pieces felt all the more slapdash. Riggan's problem may be that he doesn't understand what's happening to him, that he can't see a way out -- but that shouldn't be the film's. By the end, we're trapped in an overly familiar, hackneyed place: the movie backs itself into a corner it can't work itself out of without killing the illusion or submitting to it in full. So what does it do? It opens a window.
Let's be real [this is a last line spoiler alert]: it takes a lot of trust for a film to believably lead toward suicide. If you can stick the landing, that's something deeply affecting. When that happens, it should feel like a betrayal or a loss...not like a gimmick in the face of a dead end.