The Birdcage (1996) (R)















"La Cage aux Folles" was the original French film that later became the not-so blockbuster "The Birdcage". This is the kind of movie that I take a chance with. You can find it in the five dollar movie sections of the store and online for even cheaper. After many weeks of passing by it and seeing it here and there, I decided to take a chance. What resulted was the delighted viewing of the uncompromising, fabulous comedy.
Armand Goldman runs a nightclub called "The Birdcage". His main source of entertainment is men in drag lip syncing to old pop songs. But the star of his show is his partner, Albert. Albert Goldman is a hysterical mess, wanting to be a diva but falling short in so many ways. He makes up for that by throwing temper tantrums and constantly complaining.
Then there is Senator Kevin Keeley, this man is a spoof of the typical conservative politician. He thinks he's God's gift to the world and lacks the ability to see his own faults. He has a perfect wife, Louise, who seems like a Martha Stewart type. These two have a daughter, Barbara.
It's Barbara who brings the worlds of the fanciful Goldmans and the religious Keeleys together through circumstances that I won't reveal (I don't want to spoil this plot).
In order to not step on any toes, the Goldmans throw on a masquerade of being a "normal" family. They get rid of all the brightly colored paints and the wigs and makeup and try to keep a straight face (pun intended).
First things first, this movie is hilarious. It's one of my favorite comedies and certainly one of the most bold. It doesn't fall into vulgar stereotypes or name calling, but quietly addresses these issues with restraint and jokes. They say (whoever "they" may be) that one of the best ways to get a person to change their mind is to get them to laugh. But I don't think that "The Birdcage" is trying to change anyone's mind about political issues—it's just entertainment—entertainment with a heart.
The cast here is insanely good, Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Diane Wiest, and Hank Azaria. They each have their moments that shine and produce laughs but each one of them is played with honesty. Comedies are funny because the actors are taking the role seriously. The situation may not funny to the character but it is to the viewer.
While everyone does an outstanding job, Nathan Lane completely steals the show. Playing Albert, he's whiny and squeamish but incredibly human and sympathetic. Lane's broadway background helps him be flashy and hilarious and then dial it back and become subdued and touched emotionally.
"The Birdcage" always addresses the elephant in the room with dignity. It's strange to phrase it like that because "dignity" is a word not associated with this film, but it's the only one that fits properly.
The term "laugh out loud comedy" has been applied to many films that are just plain mediocre. But for me, the term applies here because on many occasions I did burst out in laughter.
It's flashy and loud, hilarious and touching.
"The Birdcage" is a chance that I think is well worth taking.

Score: 3 and a half stars 4

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