A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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!

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

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