Long-term gay partners who are proudly out and have raised their son together – shocking! And hilarious too. In Mike Nichols’s The Birdcage (1996), the most outrageous character is the conservative Republican politician who is homophobic (not to mention anti-Semitic).
The film’s source material is La Cage aux Folles, a French musical that inspired a 1978 movie of the same name. Legendary comedian Elaine May’s adaptation is brilliant at winking at the foibles of its characters as well as creating moments both witty and tender. The movie is available on Prime Video.
Armand (Robin Williams) runs a drag club in Miami. His partner Albert (Nathan Lane) performs there as Starina, but only after throwing the hysterical fits befitting a diva.
They disagree, they argue, they threaten to break up, but their love runs deep. From the one time Armand slept with a woman, he has a son named Val (Dan Futterman), who announces that he is going to get married to Barbara (Calista Flockhart). Armand is even more upset than Albert.
It hardly helps that Barbara’s father Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman), who has co-founded the suitably stern-sounding Coalition for Moral Order, is battling a scandal. Might a wedding bring Kevin and his embattled wife Louise (Dianne Wiest) the happy headlines they desire?
There are many more conundrums for the blissfully hidebound Keeleys and Val’s anxious parents. Is Armand’s surname the Jewish Goldman or the Christian Coleman? What to do with Agadaor (Hank Azaria), the flagrantly gay housekeeper? And might it be best to keep the identifiably gay Albert away from the initial encounter between conservative and liberal America?
The movie is as sharp as it is fuzzy. Apart from sending up the terror of being in the midst of gay men who are comfortable with their identity, the movie scores points in favour of drag, which presents the solution to the problem.
Beyond the chuckles lies an unmistakable message of accepting difference, whether in gender identity or religion. There are outstanding performances by the cast, especially Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest. Among the unforgettable sequences is when Armand tries to tutor Albert into being more “masculine”, and when Kevin Keeley meets Albert, who is passing as Val’s mother. Gene Hackman plays his obnoxious character with so much relatability that he can almost be forgiven.
Also read in the “Start the week with a film series”