'Birdman': What the Critics Are Saying

Alejandro G. Inarritu's dark comedy stars Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Lindsay Duncan

Birdman, out Friday at the specialty box office in New York and Los Angeles, follows Michael Keaton as Riggan Thomson, a has-been former star of superhero blockbusters who is about to unveil a Broadway play that he wrote, directs and stars in in the hope that it will bring him renewed acclaim and respectability.

The Alejandro G. Inarritu dark comedy from Fox Searchlight and New Regency also stars Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts and Lindsay Duncan, and is made to appear to be lensed with one continuous shot

Read what top critics are saying about Birdman:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy writes that while Inarritu "certainly triggers any number of dark and even catch-in-your-throat laughs, he's out for bigger game here on several fronts. ... The film takes vivid X-rays of such matters as creative egos and insecurities, spontaneity versus careful planning, what one does or does not do with power and influence, the positives and negatives of fame and the contrast between the public impact of a controlled event like a theater performance and an impromptu happening such as Riggan’s sprint through a jammed Times Square wearing nothing but his underpants (don't ask)."

Read more 'Birdman' Cast on Superheroes, Theater and How "Being a Celebrity Is Shit"

Of the cast, says McCarthy, "Keaton soars perhaps higher than ever as a thespian with something to prove when not wearing a funny suit. ... Norton is crackerjack as the bad boy actor whose gigantic ego does constant battle with equally large insecurities, while Stone stands out among the women, particularly in two nocturnal theater rooftop scenes she shares with Norton (in one, they play a nifty little session of Truth or Dare). Zach Galifianakis plays it straight as Riggan's exasperated producer and attorney."

The New York Times' Manohla Dargis notes it has "a destabilizing liftoff for a funny, frenetic, buoyant and rambunctiously showboating entertainment in which Inarritu himself rises high and then higher still." Praising the ambitious cinematography, "the camera doesn’t just move with the story and characters, it also ebbs and flows like water, soars and swoops like a bird, its movement as fluid as a natural element, as animated as a living organism." Also, Stone is "wonderful ... in sexy-cynical ragamuffin mode), Norton is "pitch-perfect, perfectly cast," Riseborough is "amusing," Ryan is "touching" and Galifianakis is "deftly funny."

The Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey says, "The director's surrealist portrait of modern times and the cult of celebrity is brilliant on so many levels that even the occasional downdraft can't keep Birdman from soaring," and Keaton gives "one of those performances that is so intensely truthful, so eerily in the moment, so effortless in making fantasy reality, and reality fantasy, that it is hard to imagine Keaton will ever be better." Additionally, "Kevin Thompson's production design is like a living creature, ... [and] the film is framed by Antonio Sanchez's evocative drum score and lifted by symphonic swells that milk every melodramatic quote-unquote movie moment with a sly sarcasm that is as loving as it is biting."

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane writes, "Birdman is not without its flaws. Someone could have told Inarritu that critics, though often mean, are not preemptively so, and that anybody who said, as Tabitha does, 'I’m going to destroy your play,' before actually seeing it, would not stay long in the job. Also, some viewers, hustled and bustled by the action, may find it all too much." Still, Inarritu's "previous films, like Babel and 21 Grams, slipped down the crack between the anguished and the po-faced. Birdman, though twenty times funnier, is a more serious work, refusing to stint on the high, human comedy of forever falling short." 

Watch more New 'Birdman' Clips Reveal Awkward Moments for Michael Keaton and Emma Stone

On the other hand, The New York Observer's Rex Reed writes that Keaton is "still the best (i.e., only) reason to suffer through a miserable load of deranged, deluded crap masquerading as a black comedy called Birdman. ... Some of the critics who embrace this kind of stupidity claim that Birdman pretends to say something witty about the perils of celebrity, fame, stardom, success and failure, not necessarily in that order, but I can find nothing good to say about any shard of the pretentiousness on view here."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee