THE BIRDCAGE is a well constructed one joke movie that audiences
seem to love and that some critics like and others don't. This critic
admired Robin Williams's performance as well as some of the minor
actors, but found the film's depiction of gay people more insulting to
them than funny. Then again, perhaps I am too sensitive or maybe I
just want more from a movie than caricature.
THE BIRDCAGE is based on the French film LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Its
premise is that Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane) are a
happy gay couple who have been together for decades and who have one
son, Val (Dan Futterman). Albert is Armand's star in his transvestite
nightclub. Although the other male singers in the club are quite
convincing as females, Albert isn't and looks more like a male actor
trying to play a transvestite. This is consistent with Lane's
performance. Although I found Williams believable as gay, Lane
overacted so much that I never found his character believable.
Val announces that he is going to marry Barbara (Calista
Flockhart), who is the daughter of the founder of The Coalition for
Moral Order, conservative Ohio Republican Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene
Hackman). It seems that, whereas Armand and Albert are a real family,
the Republicans are all hypocrites. Senator Keeley is backing fellow
Moral Order Senator Jackson for President until Jackson is killed in
the bed of an underaged black prostitute. The screen adaptation by
Elaine May ridicules Senator Dole by name many times in order to make
the movie topical and to make sure that audience knows they are serious
about the Republican hypocrisy point.
Val wants to keep his family's sexual orientation from the Senator
and his wife (Dianne Wiest) so he gets his Dad (Armand) to remove all
of the pornographic art from their apartment, which makes his Mom
(Albert) faint because she misses her pornography. Albert decides to
become a man again and play the part of Val's uncle while Val's
biological mother, whom Val has never met, is asked to return to be to
his Mom for an evening.
Let's cut to chase. The reason I do not like the show is the
repeated single joke. Take, for example, Armand's teaching Albert to
act masculine. Albert keeps sticking his pinkie towards the sky while
drinking only to have Armand slap it down. Every time he hits the
pinkie, the audience roars. Every time Albert use the female pronoun
to refer to himself, the audience goes crazy. In general, every
exaggerated gay behavior sends the audience wild. Albert keeps
claiming he is going to faint, he drives 20 mph for miles with his
parking brake on, etc., ad nauseam. I found the antics demeaning to
gays and highly repetitious.
Albert and Armand have a "houseboy" (Hank Azaria) who is a gay
Guatemalan. The audience gets to laugh at him a lot, and I do mean
"at" him, because he can not walk in shoes without falling on everyone
and because he is portrayed as both a stupid character and one whose
sole, supposed charm is that he has a strange accent. This character
is the most insulting of them all. Director Mike Nichols should have
been ashamed to have used such cheap shots.
There are some lines I liked. When Armand is trying to teach
Albert how to act straight, he says, "What do you think about those
Dolphins?" Albert, trying his best to act macho, answers in an
attempted deeper voice with, "How do you think I feel? Betrayed?
Bewildered?" In another scene, Armand describes his predicament as,
"It's like riding a psychotic horse toward a burning stable." Senator
Keeley does not trust the American public saying, "People in this
country aren't interested in details. They only trust headlines."
There are two aspects of the show that deserve special mention.
The cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki) and the sets (Cheryl Carasik) are
garish and great. Full of bright colors of limes, yellows, and roses.
The costumes, especially those of Armand's done by Stephen Shubin, are
both outlandish and visually compelling. Elvis would have killed to
have Armand's outfit of extremely wide white linen pants topped with an
elaborate black and gold jacket and with shoes straight out of "The
Today we have the Internet Movie Data Base to answer every
question we ever want to ask about stars, as well, of course, as a way
to find old reviews. There is one actress in the movie that plays the
secretary to Val's biological mother. I believe I wrote down her name
correctly as Francesca Cruz. She is not listed anywhere on the Web,
which really bothers me. I know I have seen her somewhere before but I
can not figure out where. If anyone knows, I wish they would drop me a
line. She has a trivial part in the film, it is just that I can not
figure out where I saw her before.
THE BIRDCAGE runs a little too long 1:58 thanks to editor Arthur
Schmidt. The film is rated R for some mild language. There is no sex,
nudity or violence. The film should be fine for teenagers. Although I
do not recommend this show, I should point out in fairness that my wife
liked it and was laughing right along with most of the rest of the
audience. I suspect the film will make a bundle. I give the movie *
1/2 for William's performance plus the well done minor performances of
Flockhart and Wiest, but I found little worth rewarding in the rest of
the cast and found the script demeaning to gays and insulting to
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes