A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 277 – La Cage Aux Folles

La Cage Aux Folles – December 2nd, 2010

While I’ve seen the American remake of this movie several times I had never seen the original before today. Silly, really, but the American version is on television fairly regularly and I honestly couldn’t say when I last saw the original’s title pop up in my channel guide. I’d always heard good things about it but never got around to seeing it. But when we went to buy The Birdcage to watch for National Coming Out Day we found that it came in a two disc set with the original, so we bought that and then we watched the remake and stuck the box back on our shelf and didn’t put in the original right away. Until tonight.

I’ve got to say, overall? I’m really rather impressed with the remake having now seen the original. It’s not just that the plot is kept very close, it’s everything. The plot here really is quite similar. Renato Baldi is the owner of a drag club in St. Tropez. The star act is his companion of 20 years, Albin. And Renato’s son, Laurent, has gotten engaged to a very nice young woman named Andrea whose parents happen to be ultra conservative and involved in politics. When a political scandal rocks the conservative party, Andrea’s parents decide a nice wedding would be the perfect distraction, so off they go to meet Laurent’s parents. The bulk of the movie revolves around Renato and Laurent trying to figure out how to pass the family off as acceptable to Andrea’s parents. Albin, being super flamboyant by nature, can’t be there, but how do you tell him that without hurting him? If you’ve seen the American version, it’s the same basic concept. And being a farce, there is obviously a totally ridiculous and over-the-top solution: Albin dresses in drag and passes himself off as Laurent’s mother.

I’m serious when I say that they stuck close to the plot and script in the remake. Yes, the location was changed and there are definitely differences, but there are more similarities, down to the pink socks Albin wears when he puts on a suit in hopes of claiming to be Laurent’s uncle. The conversation about cemeteries? There. The giant crucifix in the living room? There. The butler not wearing shoes because they make him fall down? Yup. Though Jacob, the butler in this one? His hotpants are considerably more sparkly. But really, it’s all so very closely adhered to, it was great to see how the original did everything. Having seen the American version first, I don’t think I can really speak to one being better than the other. I’m biased. I just think it’s really fantastic that so much of what I loved about the remake is right out of the original.

Now, this movie does suffer a little when it comes to period. It’s dated. The clothes, the music, the hair, it all screams 1970s. But it ends up not mattering. The story is still about a family trying to put on this impossible act so that their son can be happy. It’s still got outrageous physical humor and all the comedy that comes from Albin trying to charm the Charriers. It’s got some great touching scenes between Albin and Renato and that made me very happy. The story itself plays out well regardless of the decade it’s set in and the performances from the entire main cast are all fantastic to watch.

My one real quibble with the movie is that it’s incredibly negative towards the women in it. Renato repeatedly and casually calls Laurent’s fiancee a whore when Laurent tells him he’s engaged. Perhaps I’m missing some cultural cues, but when the lines about Andrea “stealing” Laurent away are spoken, they feel a little more serious, a little more nasty, as opposed to joking. And then there’s Laurent’s mother. Not only did she abandon Laurent, leading to Albin disliking her intensely to start with, but she actively tries to seduce Renato when they meet. She’s not welcome in the family at all. I’m not sure I like that dynamic so much. It adds a tone of true discord to the plot that I felt took away from the humor inherent in everything else. There’s already so much conflict, from Renato and Albin over whether Albin can stay for the future in-laws’ arrival, to the frantic attempts not to have conflict between Laurent’s family and Andrea’s. Adding in a serious conflict between Albin, Renato and Laurent’s mother? It’s too much for me. There’s no real time to spend on it, so it feels wasted anyhow.

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this. I expected that I would, but it’s nice to be proven right in that respect. The similarities were all fantastic. The differences, I’d have to say, were a mixed bag. I loved things like the bowl Renato keeps his keys in, and Jacob’s sequined hotpants, but I disliked the casual misogyny and one unexpected bit of violence. But they weren’t so very egregious that they ruined the movie for me. There’s too much great humor here. Too many fun performances and good scenes.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

La Cage Aux Folles

December 2, 2010

La Cage Aux Folles

I first saw this movie when I was about twelve or thirteen years old while visiting my grandparents. I seem to recall that they actually owned a copy of the movie, probably a gift from my uncles the film makers. This would have been around 1985 or so – more than a decade before the American re-make was made, so at the time it was just some bizarre French film I had found in my grandparent’s collection. I distinctly recall being utterly confused by the entire film. It was so filled with a crazy flamboyance that was utterly alien to me. I think at the time I chalked it up to French people being exceptionally odd, because nothing in my experience at the time would indicate that anything like this existed in America.

As I watch this again tonight with our review of The Birdcage relatively fresh in my mind I am completely blown away by how astonishingly faithful the American re-make is to the original, and by how astonishingly ahead of we Americans the French are. To think that this movie was made almost twenty years before the 1996 Birdcage – it simply boggles the mind. Practically every memorable moment in the American film had its germination here in the French original. The butler with no shoes. The bowls with naked Greek boys. The lesson on how to be more butch with the toast and the John Wayne walk. (Though Robin Williams gets a better punchline for that scene.) Even the bit where the boy’s biological mother comments on his gay father’s hairy chest, a bit that I would have sworn was written for the extremely hairy Robin Williams, is directly out of this movie.

The plots of the two movies are identical. The son of a night club owner comes home to tell his father that he intends to get married. His fiance is the daughter of a conservative politician who becomes embroiled in a scandal when the president of his party dies in the arms of an underaged black prostitute. The night-club owning father and his son makes an attempt to appear like conservative people to make the proposed marriage more palatable to the girl’s parents. Everything goes hilariously wrong.

There are only a few minor tweaks. The butler in the French version is a flamboyant young black man, rather than a flamboyant young Guatemalan man. (Benny Luke, as Jacob, is every bit as wonderful a scene stealer as Hank Azaria as Agador. Both of them are utterly hilarious and impossible to look away from.) There’s a great moment in this French version where all the night-club employees burst in on the somber party upstairs to wish Renato and Albin a happy anniversary, traipse around the apartment singing, smiling and kissing everybody, then leave again. It’s a great culmination to the entire evening and a funny way to have the joyous life of the drag people contrasted with the dour and bleak lives of Andrea’s conservative parents.

I suppose that’s another contrast between the two films. Michel Galabru plays the conservative father Simon as a loud, angry blow-hard. His home is as bleak a place as you could imagine with its faded brown walls and stark puritan furniture. At one point his daughter starts to take pity on him and is about to confess about Laurent’s parents, but then Simon makes a point of humiliating a waiter in the restaurant they’re eating at and she thinks better of it. I think that Gene Hackman’s character Senator Keely is a more sympathetic fellow. Perhaps it’s that we backward folk in America are still unable to completely vilify our conservative politicians. Or maybe it’s that for the end of the movie to work the way it does in the American version you need to have some sympathy for Keely and want him to escape from the nightmare dinner politically unscathed.

I think that my enjoyment of this ribald and colorful tale is actually enhanced by my love of the re-make. It’s fun to see the original take on all these characters. It’s interesting to note what’s been altered and what, after eighteen years and on a whole other continent, was still just exactly as funny if left the same. I still have my youthful memories of being completely baffled by this alien world being portrayed on the screen, although I think I have a very different perspective on it now. (I blame the inescapable charm of RuPaul’s Drag Race – I’ll never be able to look at drag the same way now that I’ve fallen in love with it as a joyous art form. Can I get an Amen?) I admit that I’ve never seen the French sequels to this movie, which were never re-made for American audiences. Perhaps I should.

December 2, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment