The Birdcage (1996) – Review

3 Stars

The Birdcage catches Robin Williams at the peak of his movie stardom. Coming off the smash hits Ms. Doubtfire and Jumanji, the comedian could no wrong with general audiences. This remake of the Oscar-winning French film La Cage aux Folles is a mildly pleasing farce with a relaxed performance from Williams, who lets Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, and Hank Azaria steal the show.

Armand (Robin Williams) is a gay night club owner who is married to Albert (Nathan Lane), the headlining female impersonator. Their club called the Birdcage is one of the most respected alternative bars in South Beach. One day Armand’s grown son, Val, from a one-night stand twenty years earlier, returns from college to inform his father that he’s getting married. The problem is the bride (Calista Flockhart) is the daughter of an ultra conservative senator (Gene Hackman) looking to avoid scandal after his running mate dies in the arms of a hooker.

Val has promised his fiance that the two families can get together for a dinner to celebrate their engagement. In doing so, Albert is asked to stay away from the event as to not upset the politician. Armand’s house is redecorated to make it appear he is a heterosexual man, and his sexually open but dim man-servant is told to “straighten up” in the most offensive use of the term.

The farcical sequence of the picture is when the movie works best. Albert crashes the dinner party in drag pretending to be Val’s mysterious absentee mother figure from South Carolina. During this portion of the film the jokes, acting, and continually rising stakes are expertly maneuvered by veteran filmmaker Mike Nichols. The Birdcage was a smash hit back in its era, but today the edgy humor is dated and the stereotypes are ghastly. However, there is a warm tone to the film in the portrayal of a gay man’s relationship to his over-dramatic partner, and their straight son.

Director: Mike Nichols
Stars: Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane

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