On Thursday, the first trailer for Alejandro González Iñárritu's most recent arthouse foray began appearing online. Unlike the acclaimed director's previous films, however, this is one you're going to want to check out, because this is officially the first exciting Oscar bait movie of the year.
The culprit's name? Birdman, the newest film starring Michael Keaton. Hold on, now, before you walk away shaking your head and mumbling something about a certain star having hit the skids since his early nineties hey day, hear me out. First, you're an idiot, because Michael Keaton is indisputably awesome and always has been, and not just because he's the best Batman ever (yeah, I said it). Second, judging from what little we know of the film, Keaton's role certainly plays to the actor's strengths.
Third, Iñárritu has been a bona fide purveyor of quality content ever since he dropped Amores Perros all over everyone in 2000. Assuming you missed his efforts to date, the odds are good that was either because the film was in Spanish or it was made for a budget of, like, four dollars (he also made Babel, but not even Brad Pitt saw that and he was in it).
Before we properly dive in, you should know that Birdman isn't a superhero film (even though it does appear to enough requisite superheros and big explosions to qualify). The film follows a washed up actor who was known previously for playing the titular superhero, Birdman. Said superhero appears to be based on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon from the late sixties. Those people who were in college in the early oughts will also recognize the hero from his sillier incarnation as Harvey Birdman, attorney to the cartoon stars, a late night satire that played on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim (and was a riot).
At any rate, the assumption is that Keaton's character was famous for playing Birdman in a big budget movie (or series) adaptation and that those halcyon days are long gone. The movie proper follows the character, Riggan Thomson, as he is attempting to launch a new play on Broadway. If you're drawing parallels between Keaton in real life (years after leaving his most famous part (no, it's not Betelgeuse) he's attempting an artsy comeback) and Keaton on screen, that's almost certainly not by accident. Both the self-referential nature of the plot and the framing of the trailer itself lend kind of a Kaufmanesque vibe to the proceedings.
Along the way, Keaton will most likely interact with a host of family, friends and coworkers who are - in the grand tradition of Oscar bait movies - either very messed up emotionally or who are mad at Keaton because his character is very messed up emotionally. That might sound like well tread ground, but when that random assortment of characters is embodied by actors as talented as Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, the always incredible Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis, this movie has us ready to walk through familiar territory.
More than anything, though, it's just exciting to see Michael Keaton tackling a role with what appears to be some real meat on it. After languishing in random supporting roles and cameos for the past several years, it's gratifying to see him finally being recognized for the talent we've known was there since before he donned the cape and cowl.
It's still too early to call Birdman a worthwhile film, but you can bet we'll be cramming into theaters alongside the arthouse crowd when the film releases on October 17. In the meantime, if you haven't watched the trailer, seriously, do yourself a favor.