A washed up actor, who once played an iconic superhero, battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career and himself in the days leading up to the opening of a Broadway play.
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a 2014 black comedy–drama film co-written, produced, and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. It stars Michael Keaton with Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts. Keaton plays a faded Hollywood actor famous for his superhero role struggling to mount a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up Hollywood actor famous for playing the superhero Birdman in blockbuster movies decades earlier. Riggan is tormented by the voice of Birdman, who criticizes him, and he imagines himself performing feats of levitation and telekinesis. Riggan hopes to reinvent his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. The play is produced by Riggan’s best friend and lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), and also stars Riggan’s girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and first-time Broadway actress Lesley (Naomi Watts). Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering addict, serves as his assistant.
During rehearsals, a light falls onto Ralph, an actor Riggan and Jake agree is terrible; Riggan tells Jake he caused the light to fall so he could replace Ralph. Through a connection with Lesley, Riggan replaces Ralph with the brilliant but volatile method actor Mike (Edward Norton), refinancing his house to fund his contract. The first previews go disastrously: Mike breaks character over the replacement of his gin with water, and attempts to rape Lesley during a sex scene. Riggan reads early reviews and is incensed that Mike has stolen the attention, but Jake encourages him to continue. When Riggan catches Sam using marijuana, she tells him he does not matter and his play is a vanity project.
Backstage during the final preview, Riggan sees Sam and Mike flirting. He accidentally locks himself out of the theater and has to walk in his underwear through Times Square to get back inside; his popularity explodes online. Afterwards, he runs into influential critic Tabitha Dickinson, who tells him she hates Hollywood celebrities who “pretend” to be actors, and promises to “kill” his play with a negative review. Riggan gets drunk and passes out in the street. The next day, he hallucinates a conversation with Birdman, who tries to convince him to make another Birdman film, and imagines himself flying through New York City back to the theater.
On opening night, Riggan uses a real gun for the final scene in which his character kills himself, and shoots his nose off onstage. He earns a standing ovation from all but Tabitha, who leaves during the applause. In the hospital, Jake tells Riggan that Tabitha gave the play a rave review. After Sam visits Riggan, he dismisses Birdman and climbs onto the window ledge; when Sam returns, Riggan is gone. She looks down at the street, then up at the sky, and smiles.