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.

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October 11, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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