Add up the belly laughs in Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu”s first four features — “Amores Perros,” “21 Grams,” “Babel” and “Biutiful” — and, well, you’ll find you have a lot of fingers going spare. Accomplished and sometimes exhilarating as his films (all of which have found favor with the Academy to some degree) have been, a change of pace wouldn’t hurt him at this point.
That appears to be very much what he’s going for in his new project, “Birdman,” which began principal photography in New York City yesterday. Billed as a black comedy, it stars several names you might not have expected to see in an Iñárritu film, including Michael Keaton, Emma Stone and Zach Galifianakis, as well as a few more regularly drama-inclined stars. Among them is Naomi Watts, who received her first Oscar nomination for “21 Grams” nearly 10 years ago; this will be her first collaboration with the director since then.
Also on board this all-star endeavor: Edward Norton (who has settled into a routine of ensemble pieces lately), Amy Ryan (an Oscar nominee five years ago for “Gone Baby Gone”) and new British hope Andrea Riseborough (fresh from “Oblivion,” so to speak).
New Regency is producing, with Fox Searchlight set to distribute; the project certainly seems to fit Searchlight’s scrappy-glossy indie brand.
What’s interesting is that it’s Keaton who has the lead role. The “Beetlejuice” and “Batman” star hasn’t exactly been absent from our screens in recent years, though you could be forgiven for thinking so — voice work aside, his last big-screen outing, albeit in a supporting role, was the 2010 action comedy “The Other Guys.” In “Birdman,” subtitled “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” he plays a seemingly rather self-reflexive character: a deflated actor, most famous for playing a beloved movie superhero, trying to repair his career and personal life as he mounts a Broadway play. Sounds somewhat Kaufman-esque to me; expect the word “meta” to pop up a lot around this one.
It marks Iñárritu’s second film without Guillermo Arriaga, formerly his regular screenwriter: the original screenplay was written by the director with Armando Bo and Nicolas Giacobone — with whom he also co-penned “Biuitiful” — as well as newcomer Alexander Dinelaris. Searchlight president Claudia Lewis calls it “an imaginative and original dark comedy”; the film’s producer John Lesher (“End of Watch”) echoes her with “deeply original.” We can always use more of that.
Do you think Iñárritu can pull off a quirky comedy, or would you rather the Oscar-nominated auteur stuck to his somber palette? And are you ready for a Michael Keaton comeback?