Armand (Williams) and Albert (Lane) have built the perfect life for themselves tending to their gaudy South Beach nightclub. But their pastel tranquility is shaken when Armand’s son announces that he’s getting married to the daughter of ultra-conservative Senator Keeley (Hackman)… and they’re all getting together for dinner! Can Armand and Albert transform themselves into Mr. – and Mrs. – Family Values and pull the chiffon over Keeley’s eyes?
The Birdcage 7.75
I’ve never seen ‘La cage aux folles’ (neither the play or film), but I’ve seen ‘The Birdcage’ twice. The only reason I even saw it is that everyone was raving about it, and Robin Williams had been on a hot streak at the time, what with ‘Aladdin’, ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ and ‘Jumanji’. By then, he had also done ‘Good Morning, Vietnam’ and ‘Dead Poets Society’, which had garnered much acclaim. So I was curious.
But, ultimately, I was disappointed with ‘The Birdcage’. While it was an amusing film, it didn’t have any lasting quality to it; I had a good time watching it, but that’s about it. To me, it felt like a farce like any other, with the only notable exception being that there was a gay couple as its centrepiece. That was all fine and good with me, of course, but the material didn’t move me nor did it offer any truly memorable moments.
Recently, the local Planned Parenthood office had a funding drive in conjunction with a summertime outdoor film festival. They picked ‘The Birdcage’ as their “film de choix”. Seeing as I had relatively enjoyed myself the first time, and given that I wanted to help PPO survive their recent cutbacks (as an unbiased, non-judgmental service, I find them essential to the community ), and since my partner and a few friends of ours were keen on going, I figured “why not?”.
While my opinion of ‘The Birdcage’ has barely changed in those 15 years, I really enjoyed the experience. Being out in a local park, on lawn chairs and blankets, with slurpees in hand and the stars above, it reminded me of the old days of going to the drive-in – where the picture quality and sound sucked, as did the view if you were in the back seat, but the laid-back, communal experience made up for everything else. I have a few fond memories of going to the drive-in.
Anyway, ‘The Birdcage’ was suited to this outdoor activity: even if the video was blown out of a cheap projector, even if the audio was only in stereo (or double-mono?) and was mixed in with the growl of passing buses, it was fine – it’s mostly a dialogue-based one-set piece, anyway. So it didn’t matter; it really doesn’t require all the bells and whistles that, say, ‘Transformers’ might depend on.
Well… they have to over-compensate in the “wow” factor to make up for the rest of it in some fashion, right? I mean, if you distract them long enough, you can get away with anything, I say…
Oh, look over there! Shiny thing!
‘The Birdcage’ is a funny film. I laughed heartily as did many of the people in the park. I think that its key problems, the reasons why I can’t possibly give it an 8.0 rating, are too many contrivances, some awkward dialogue/exposition, and a truly p!$$-poor ending. Again, I have no idea if this represents the French version relatively well or not, as I have not seen it, but this finished product could have been better.
Robin Williams and Nathan Lane were terrific, if moderately stereotyped (having known my fair share of gay people, I can safely say that they’re not all clichés ). Williams’ delivery was slightly too goofy for me, but he delivered nonetheless. Nathan Lane was superb, even if the character could be grating. But they played off of each other superbly and made for a credible pair. I doubt that they could have made a superior casting decision at the time.
Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest were believable enough as the conservative parents of the bride-to-be, but the roles were weak. For one, there was no way that an uptight jerk-off like him would climb in and out of windows, dress in drag, …etc. It’s ill-conceived and it annoyed me. As for her, she was a real ninny. Wiest played her fine, but one always got the sense that she only had a tenuous grasp on things – and rarely clued in on the obvious.
As for their kids, well they were relatively nondescript. But the overwhelming value of this is that they can fall back into the background and let the others take over. It is, after all, not their story – even if they are the catalyst for what takes place on screen. Even the secondary characters are more interesting than they are, most notably Hank Azaria’s flamingly gay housekeeper and Christine Baranski’s no-nonsense accidental surrogate mother.
One gets the sense, while watching ‘The Birdcage’, that it had never really escaped the confines of the original stage play. It mostly takes place in one location – limiting the scope of the picture in that everything felt smooshed into place. But it has enough verve and genuine laughs to make up for any of its limitations – enough so that I’m now curious about the original. I may not have any intentions of seeing this one again, but I know that, if I do, I will have a grand ol’ time.