Film review: The Birdcage (1996), directed by Mike Nichols
It’s been a long time since I saw this last, but it’s a funny little film, and when I noticed it was on TV, had to re-watch it.
Based on Jean Poiret’s 1973 farce La Cage aux Folles and a re-make of a movie version from 1978, The Birdcage is the story of a young man (Dan Futterman), who has been away at college and found the girl he wants to marry (none other than Calista Flockhart).
The only problem is to introduce the parents to each other – because the girl’s parents (Gene Hackman and Dianne Lane) are ultraconservative Republicans, one even going as far as being a senator … and the boy’s gay father (Robin Williams) owns a nightclub and the star of the show is the drag queen Starina (Nathan Lane) – who also happens to be the long-term domestic partner of the father-of-the-groom …
The mainstay of the comedy is trying to get Albert (who turns into Starina at night), who is incredibly over-the-top camp, to act straight, and a lot of comedy also comes from the couple’s camp house maid, Agador (Hank Azaria, most famous perhaps for the multitude of characters he plays in The Simpsons). Robin Williams’s acting is actually rather toned down, surprisingly enough, or maybe because he’s surrounded by two outrageous characters, you don’t notice as much. It’s good that he’s toned down a bit, though, or it would have become too overpowering a show.
As far as the film is concerned, it raises some fascinating questions about people’s perceptions and prejudices – not to mention stereotypes. Maybe I’ll see if I can find any interviews given by Lane about it, as it would be interesting to see what he has to say about it, seeing as how he actually is gay in real life, unlike Azaria or Williams. It seems to have gone down fairly well, though: according to Wikipedia,
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) praised the film for “going beyond the stereotypes to see the character’s depth and humanity. The film celebrates differences and points out the outrageousness of hiding those differences.”
The film might also raise questions along the lines of “how much are you REALLY likely to buy into someone’s gender just because they wear make-up?” but that’s perhaps less important.
Be proud of who you are, and where you come from, I think is an important lesson to take away from this film. It makes you think and question your own sense of morality, and all the while you’re having a good giggle. Can’t really go wrong with that combination!
4 out of 5 feather boas.