The Birdcage (1996)

As the country approaches an important vote on Tuesday, I looked back at a film, where at its center, was love and acceptance of differences.

The Birdcage starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as a middle aged gay couple who run a drag club in Miami.  Armand (Williams) had a son Val (Dan Futterman) who had fallen in loved with a young girl (Calista Flockhart) and wanted to get married.  The problem is the girl’s parents were extremely conservative, with her father being Senator Keeley (Gene Hackman) who had co-founded an organization for the morals of the country.

Val returned to see his father and “mother” Albert (Lane) to get their help to convince the Senator that they were a typical family.

Meanwhile, Senator Keeley’s co-founder died in the bed of an underage black prostitute, creating a huge scandal.  Keeley decided to escape the press by taking his wife Louise (Dianne Wiest) to meet Val and Val’s family.

There are a lot of uncomfortable moments in The Birdcage, a film based on the French film “La Cage aux Folles,” when the characters are being forced into situations that they simply are unable to exist within.  One could argue that the selfishness of Val and Barbara are really on display here, throwing their parents’ feeling away.  Val is downright cruel to the overtly emotional and practically on fire flaming Albert, never once really considering the feelings of the man he considered a mother.  Armand had to do so much damage control, but, in that damage control, we see the real and deeply caring relationship between these two men and you understand how Armand could live with the temperamental Albert.  The scene where Williams finds Lane sitting on a bench and gives him the palimony agreement is such a beautiful scene of love between two people that it really underscores the idea of the film.

Albert and Armand are willing to do anything for Val, even what might be uncomfortable or mean, because they love him and they accept him.  Val’s learns that lesson as the film moves on and when he finally cuts through the crap, we understand that he sees what he has done and that he had the power to straighten it out.

The film is remarkably funny, with the robust scene stealer Agador (Hank Azaria) as a Guatemalan house boy dominating every scene.  Robin Williams truly anchors the wild performance of Nathan Lane and keeps everything under control.  He still has his share of laughs, but it comes from his dry wit and the situations instead of his normal hectic manner.

Gene Hackman is spot on as the conservative senator who finds himself smack dab in the middle of an unbelievable scandal.  His sweetness toward “Mother Coldman” shows that he is not a bad man, just one who may not see the same way as the others.

The film shows that there is the possibility of people of different lifestyles to come together and help one another instead of immediately entering into hatred.  The lesson that Val learns is a lesson that much of the country these days need to learn as well.  The Birdcage is a wonderfully funny, engaging film that celebrates individuality.  When Armand, Albert and even Agador tried to be what they were not, the struggles for everybody involved was obvious.

This is a great movie that is eminently rewatchable.



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