The Birdcage is a 1996 American remake of the classic French-language drag comedy, La Cage Aux Folles. According to the liner notes-esque booklet that came with my DVD of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Birdcage was the first movie with homosexual themes
to earn over $100 million at the box office. It was directed by Mike Nichols, and starred such big name American actors as Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Hank Azaria, and a pre-Ally McBeal Calista Flockhart. Nathan Lane, previously best-known for his stage roles, made the transition to screen acting in The Birdcage. Director Nichols co-produced The Birdcage, along with Marcello Danon (one of the writers of the screenplay to the original La Cage Aux Folles), Michelle Imperato, and Neil A. Machliss. The Birdcage was written by Elaine May; additional writing credits went to Jean Poiret (the author of the original La Cage Aux Folles), Francis Veber, and Edouard Molinaro (who directed the original French-Italian coproduction).
The Birdcage is a gay nightclub in South Miami Beach, Florida. Robin Williams plays Armand Goldman, the nightclub's owner, and Nathan Lane plays his partner, Albert Goldman, a first-class drama queen whose drag persona, Starina, is the club's star performer. Albert and Armand are the parents of Val (played by Dan Futterman), the son of Armand's decades-ago heterosexual fling with Katherine Archer, played by Christine Baranski. Hank Azaria turns in a hilarious supporting performance as Agador, the couple's flaming Guatemalan housekeeper, who dreams of someday performing at The Birdcage.
After some exposition and character development, the story begins in earnest as Val comes home with shocking news---he is getting married... to a woman! The worst part of this news is that Val's fiancée, Barbara (Calista Flockhart), is the daughter of U.S. Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman), cofounder of the Coalition for Moral Order and a notorious homophobe.
To avoid a scandal (and Keeley's wrath), Armand arranges for Katherine (Val's biological mother) to be present and acting as Val's mother when the Keeleys are invited to dinner so the two families can introduce themselves. Hilarity ensues when Katherine is forced to cancel at the last minute and is replaced by the only mother Val has ever really known: Albert---in full drag.
Fans of La Cage Aux Folles are invariably disappointed by The Birdcage. The latter film's queer themes are mostly tamed into non-threatening stereotypes or trivialized so that they can be played for laughs, if not both. It is not the best vehicle for Robin Williams' considerable comic talents, either. The original plan was for Williams to play the hyperdramatic, effeminate Albert, but he ended up cast as the more butch Armand, and as such mostly plays just a straight man (no pun intended) to Lane's antics in the more flamboyant role. Only once is Williams given an opportunity to really unleash the red nose for which he is so loved: a sequence in which Armand is choreographing a scene between Starina and an uninspired hunky young dancer. The pretty boy is supposed to celebrate, praise, and worship the drag queen in a fabulous dance solo, and for a few brief shining moments Armand launches into full manic Robin Williams mode, exhorting him to: "Fosse, Fosse, Fosse! Martha Graham, Martha Graham! Twyla! Twyla! Madonna! Madonna!" all the while punctuating his exclamations with dance moves parodying each famous choreographer's style. This is great; unfortunately, it only lasts a few minutes.
2002.03.05 at 12:17 dutchess says And despite the fact that the queer themes are downplayed, I really like the scene where Robin Wms gives Nathan the deed to the nightclub...I think they did a good job of showing a genuine connection with and love for each other....
2002.03.06 at 01:02 dutchess says and about The Birdcage; it's like 4 weddings and a funeral. The relationship that mattered was the queer, uncelebrated one.