Saturday, September 22, 2018
Birds of a Feather
This is my second entry in the Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon hosted by Angelman's Place and ME
In 1978, an hilarious French farce, La Cage aux Folles appeared on theater screens. The plot revolved around a gay couple, Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin (Michel Serrault), who are living together. Renato's son, from a one-time encounter with a woman before he and Albin became lovers, has come to him because the son is to be married to a girl and the girl's father a conservative politician desires to met her beau's parents. Chaos ensues.
In 1996, Mike Nichols bestowed upon the unsuspecting public an American remake of the classic French film. And although the French film is funny in it's own way, The Birdcage surpasses it. This is due primarily on the performance of Nathan Lane, who took on the Michel Serrault role to even more exquisite flamboyance. The remake was a huge hit. Possibly in part due to the presence of Robin Williams, but I personally think it made money on it's own merits, too.
The Birdcage (1996):
There is a problem at "the Birdcage", a gay cabaret owned by Armand Goldman (Robin Williams). The star of the show, Albert, who is also Armand's lover, is refusing to go onstage. Albert (Nathan Lane), who performs a drag show for the cabaret as "Starina" is in the middle of a mid-life crisis, coupled with the fact that he thinks that Armand is fooling around while he is onstage as Starina.
This early tête-à-tête is one of the funniest scenes.
Albert: "Don't give me that tone!"
Armand: "What tone?"
Albert: "That sarcastic contemptuous tone that means you know everything because you're a man, and I know nothing because I'm a woman!"
Armand: "You're not a woman..."
Albert "Oh, you BASTARD!"
Albert: "Whatever I am, he made me. I was adorable once. Young and full of hope. Now look at me! I'm this short, fat, insecure middle-aged THING!"
Armand: "I made you short...?"
Armand is able to get Starina on stage by appealing to Albert's ego. He threatens to put what Albert considers an inferior substitute on stage in his stead. While Starina is on stage, it appears that Armand is definitely seeing someone on the side, but it is really Val (Dan Futterman), Armand's son. See, Armand had a liaison with a woman once while still in college, just to see what it was like to have sex with a woman. And got her pregnant. (And how many couples actually wanting children would give their right arms for his kind of success...?)
Albert and Armand raised him and he has since gone on to college, and now he has shown up to tell Armand the news that he is getting married to a girl he met in college, Barbara Keeley (Callista Flockhart). The really tricky part of the situation is that Barbara's father is Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman), a conservative senator. And one who is on a Congressional committee for morality. A committee that already has a scandal on it's hands due to the fact that Keeley's co-chair has died. In bed. With a prostitute. Who was underage. And black. (OK, at this point you have to accept the parody of conservative politics, which may or may not be based entirely on fact.)
The other problem is that Val and Barabara have not been entirely forthright with her Senator father and his wife, Louise (Dianne Wiest). Barbara has told her parents that Val's father is a cultural attache to Greece and that he is married to a housewife. Keeley insists upon meeting the parents, mostly as a political expedient, to get away from the press which is hounding him about the scandal surrounding his partner on the committee.
When Val tries to explain the situation of course Armand is offended, but he is willing to make some sacrifices for the good of the future of his son. The fly in the ointment is what to do with Albert. And what to do about a woman to pose as Armand's wife. The second part is easily expedited because Armand still has contact with Val's real mother, Katherine (Christine Baranski), and gets her to agree to show up for the dinner.
But Albert is unwilling to go gently into that good night. When it is certain that he cannot pose as Armand's lover, he still insists on trying to be present and pass as Val's uncle. But attempts to try to get him to appear more masculine (did I mention Albert is flamboyant as all get out?), it appears that this idea would be folly. So instead it is arranged that Albert will dress up in his drag costume and be Armand's "wife". Only nobody tells Katherine....
With Hank Azaria appearing as the riotously hilarious house man Agador, who is also pretty flamboyant himself, the film was a huge hit at the box office. And should have garnered more that one measly Oscar nom (that for Best Art Direction). Nathan Lane is the star attraction here, and at least the Golden Globes got it right for nominating him for Best Actor (although he lost to Tom Cruise gak!), and he won the award at the American Comedy Awards. Oh, and the whole cast was awarded the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.
This is one of those movies that will stick with you for years to come. In truth I could have written this review entirely from memory. I watched it again for this review, but I remembered most of it from that one time I saw it in theater when it first came out. It is truly a wonderful comedy.
Well, that wraps up my tour for this blogathon. Drive home safely, folks.