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.



  1. Both movies have at the core the wonderful idea of what we do for those we love, and both movies are very funny. However, I agree that The Birdcage is hilariously funny. My sides ache just from recalling my last viewing. I wonder if my sides can stand another one!

    1. Not if your sides are paper thin already... :-D Thanks for reading.

  2. This is another flick I haven't seen since it came out, and I remember it does have very funny moments, but with Lane and Williams as the stars how can it not? At the same time, it's another "'fairies' acting silly" movie, trading on old hat stereotypes, that makes me roll my eyes even if, ultimately, its heart is in the right place. I guess I wish these characters had decided from the first to be themselves and not go along with the deception, but then I guess there would have been no movie if that were the case, LOL!

    1. One of the problems I have with watching movies featuring gay characters is I am not sure whether they are stereotypes or not, being straight myself. I don't want to appear insensitive, since I consider myself an ally with the gay community. And I do have some clue, since I know movies like "Boat Trip" are crude. At least it seems crude to me. Thanks for reading.

    2. Don't worry about it, Quiggy. Even members of the gay community don't always agree about movies that depict members of the gay community. Generally a gay"stereotype" is a character that conforms to the traditional, old-fashioned depiction of someone epicene, effete, helpless and swishy -- a caricature. However, since such people do exist -- although they are a minority within a minority -- I don't necessarily have a problem with their depiction as long as the characters are treated with some dignity and respect. And comedies tend to be more outrageous anyway. I don't think anyone would suggest that you are insensitive. In fact, it's cool that you watch these movies at all! Keep up the good work!

    3. Thanks, Bill. I appreciate your insight. My goal is to watch more movies that have gay themes and characters. For nothing more than just to a better grasp on a culture that is, at this point, still alien to me. I have a list I found on the net of movies with gay characters. Some I've already seen and reviewed and some I've seen but haven't reviewed, and I'll be on the look out for others that help (as long as they aren't pornographic.) I'll take any suggestions you might have, too. I think this website has a link to my email somewhere, which you are welcome to use (or if you are connected by email with Chris (Angelman), he has it.

  3. Hi Quiggy, another great choice. This is indeed one of Nathan Lane's best film roles--I recently saw him on Broadway in Angels in America and he was brilliant. Robin Williams generously underplays here to give his costar all the thunder! I also enjoy Hank Azaria who steals every scene he's in as the gay houseboy...yes, it's a stereotype but he cracks me up every time and Hank is kind of sexy too in his tight attire!!

    1. I agree about Hank Azaria, although Lane and Azaria in the same scene is almost too much... Thanks for reading.


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