A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 225 – The Birdcage

The Birdcage – October 11th, 2010

This is a farce. The play it’s based on is a farce and let’s face it, there’s enough physical comedy and comedy of embarrassment in this movie to choke a circus full of elephants. It’s a comedy that plays pretty much everything in it for laughs except for one thing: The true love between Armand and Albert. Yes, the more serious scenes where their relationship is talked about do end up with a laugh or two thrown in, but in the midst of all of the tripping and dancing and drag-as-disguise there’s a really solid message here about being who you are and being honest about it and being honest with the people you love. And it’s all based around Armand and Albert’s relationship. So that’s why we watched it today, for National Coming Out Day. We could have picked something more serious and somber, but to be honest, I’ve been depressed enough by the current news stories. Let’s have something positive here. Let’s watch something that finished on a high note, with a coming out and a happy ending.

When we were talking about what to watch today this movie really did come immediately to mind. As I said, it’s a farce, but it’s a farce with some things going on in it that I think still speak to issues people face in their lives today. There are two families in the movie: The Keeleys and the Goldmans. The Keeleys are a conservative family. Kevin Keeley is a senator who’s one of the co-founders of the Coalition for Moral Order and his daughter, Barbara, has met and fallen in love with the son of the Goldmans. Now the Goldmans are Armand and Albert. Armand owns a drag club and Albert, as Starrina, is the star of the nightly show. From a young affair with a woman named Catherine (whom he hasn’t seen since Val’s birth), Armand has Val. And now Val and Barbara want to get married and the Keeleys want to meet Val’s parents and then there’s a scandal involving the other founder of the Coalition and Val and Barbara concoct this story. They tell Barbara’s parents that Armand is a cultural attache to Greece, that Val’s mother is a housewife and that they’re staying in their summer home in South Beach. Sort of like Palm Beach, right?

After Val and Barbara make up this whole new identity for Val’s family there’s the issue of getting said family to go along with it. And this is where a lot of the humor comes in, as they strip the house of a number of phallic pieces of artwork and try to make everything and everyone pass for straight. And that’s where the stuff that strikes me as not so humorous comes in. Armand says, when Val brings up the plan, that he doesn’t want to be someone else. That it’s taken him a long time to get to where he is and he knows who he is now and he shouldn’t have to pretend. Of course he ends up trying, for Val’s sake, but it’s not an easy choice. It’s not a choice anyone should have to make. And then there’s Albert, who can’t even pass for straight. It’s just so utterly not who he is. They spend a good portion of the movie trying to get him to not be there for the Keeleys’ visit without outright hurting his feelings. But seriously, how can you say to one of the people who raised you “Hey, I love you and all, but you need to not be here when my fiancee’s family visits. They won’t approve.” There’s no good way to do that. Not that it was going to go well anyhow, in a movie like this. Everything that can go wrong does, of course. That’s where the humor is. But there are some great scenes for Albert and Armand as they try to cope with this horrible and impossible request made by their son.

The best scene for them isn’t an elaborate one. It’s not full of pratfalls or lewd jokes about the dishes having sex scenes painted on them. It’s got a more quiet humor. Albert has left the apartment, quite sure that he’s completely unwanted, and Armand follows him, sitting down next to him and setting it all out: He loves Albert. He’d do anything for him. Home is home because Albert’s there. It’s a great scene, subdued and sentimental in a loud and raucous movie. The other great scene is at the end when everything gets revealed to the Keeleys and Val tells them that Albert is his mother. Now, I have a hard time liking Val in some of this movie. I understand his motivation, but that doesn’t mean I always like how he handles what’s going on. But that moment is a redemption. It’s a coming out for Armand and Albert and really for the whole family at that point.

The humor in the latter half of the movie can make me cringe a little. There’s a lot of comedy of embarrassment. But Nathan Lane makes it all worth it. When he arrives on the scene he saves the day, really. Val and Armand spend a good chunk of the first half trying to keep him out of the way, and then a good chunk of the second half trying to keep him quiet, but really, watch him. Albert does just fine. He charms Senator Keeley and plays his role perfectly. And then he saves the day again at the end, when the press shows up looking for the Keeleys in the wake of the scandal. All by being himself, really. Lane does a fantastic job with Albert. I do love Robin Williams as Armand, but Albert’s really the star through much of the movie. Fitting, given Albert’s character really.

I love the whole cast, with Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest and Calista Flockhart as the Keeleys, Dan Futterman as Val and then Christine Baransky and Hank Azaria rounding things out as Val’s mother and Armand and Albert’s house boy (respectively). They all seem to be having fun with the movie, which is good because it is a fun movie for the most part. But most of them also get some good serious moments too (except Azaria, which is fine cause he does awesome pratfalls instead) and I like that there’s a little of that in here. It’s a fun movie and it’s got a heart and a soul and a message about being honest and being respectful and being yourself.

October 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Birdcage

October 11, 2010

The Birdcage

“I don’t want to be somebody else – do you want me to be someone else?” So says Robin Williams’ character Armand in this American remake of the seventies french farce La Cage Au Folles. Which is why we decided to put this in tonight for national coming out day. Sure, it’s a ludicrous comedic romp, but it does in its own way say that ultimately it’s easier and better to just give up on the lies and be yourself.

The movie centers on the owner of a gay nightclub in South Beach Florida named Armand Goldman. His partner, the headliner of the drag show at his club, is the hysterical Albert. (Hysterically funny as well as given to hysterics.) His man-servant Agadore is completely flaming gay. His straight son Val springs on him the news that he’s getting married to a girl he met in college and everything begins to go sideways. The father of Val’s fiance is a staunch social conservative Republican named Kevin Keeley who is up for re-election and is caught up in a scandal because one of his associates in the senate has just died in the bed of an underage black prostitute. Val and his fiance Barbara tell a number of lies to Val’s parents and to their horror the Keeleys decide to come visit Agadore and meet Val’s parents. There’s a whole lot of frantic scrambling and considerable panic because nobody can decide what to do about Albert, who has effectively raised Val as his mother but is wholly unsuitable to introduce to these conservative visitors. The whole thing culminates in the most horrifyingly awkward family dinner ever filmed.

There’s a surprising amount of this movie which still resonates with the politics of today in America. Not just the farcical bits either. Yes, there’s a lot of jabs taken at the beliefs of social conservatives with Albert in his Mrs. Coleman guise talking about gays in the military and how to deal with abortions, but there’s more to it than that. There’s a particularly tender scene about halfway through the movie where Armand presents palimony papers to Albert which is a great argument for gay marriage in my mind. Armand has this wonderful speech about how he doesn’t care who has the money or the club or the house – he just wants to be at home with Albert because he loves him. Is it strange that a tender scene in a madcap comedy brings tears to my eyes?

Part of it comes from the performances. Every actor in this movie turns in a brilliant display which brings a ton of laughs but still keeps the movie human and grounded. For one thing everybody in the movie realizes just how awful and awkward the dinner they have in the second half of the movie is. Very frequently Armand and Val pause to catch their breath before diving back into the insanity. It makes the movie easier to bear when you have Armand there saying “It’s only one night – I can get through this.”

I love the pairing of Robin Williams as Armand and Nathan Lane as Albert. Nathan lane is fantastic as Albert. He’s all shrieking panic attacks and histrionics. The character of Albert is a drama queen in every sense of the word. This forces Robin Williams to curtail his antics for the most part and play the “straight man” (if you’ll excuse a horrible pun.) He has a few moments of more outrageous comedy, but for the most part he’s there to set up the jokes. He’s also the harried sort of center of the film, the most accessible leading man. Then there’s Hank Azaria who absolutely steals the show as Agadore. Everything from his accent to his attitude to his outrageous costumes is astonishing and I still have trouble believing that this is the same actor who plays the Blue Raja and one of the government agents in Grosse Pointe Blank (as well as the voice of about every character on the Simpsons.) Rounding out the cast we have Dianne Wiest as Barbara’s mother (Dianne always seems to be a mother. She must have a very matronly feel to her) and Gene Hackman as Senator Keeley. For the most part they need only to act gullible as they are confused and taken in by the performance given to them at the dinner party – though at the end I love the way Gene Hackman plays Senator Keeley as being completely unable to understand what exactly is going on when the truth behind everything is unveiled. It’s a great comedic moment.

I spend a lot of this movie wincing in sympathy with the characters on the screen. It’s almost painful the situations they get in to. But there are so many great laughs packed in her – mostly thanks to Lane and Azaria – that I can get past those bits and enjoy the movie even so. I found it even more fun tonight since the last time I saw it was before I discovered the joy which is RuPaul’s Drag Race and Drag-U. Having watched those programs made it even more enjoyable to see the drag performances in this movie and made me see the final scene in the movie from a slightly different angle. I’m very much looking forward now to seeing La Cage au Folles again and reviewing that sometime in the near future.

Happy National Coming Out Day, America! I do hope that together we can make things get better for everybody!

October 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment