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The Birdcage

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Birdcage

Starring: Robin Williams, Nathan Lane
Director: Mike Nichols
Rated: R
RunTime: 119 Minutes
Release Date: March 1996
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Gay/Lesbian

*Also starring: Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, Dan Futterman, Christine Baranski, Calista Flockhart, Tom McGowan, Grant Heslov

Review by Dragan Antulov
1½ stars out of 4

For today's guardians of "political correctness" sight of a man in woman's clothes isn't a laughing matter. Same sight served as a basis of comedy in many different cultures and time period, but in today's "enlightened" world anyone laughing at cross-dressers is supposed to be a bigot disrespectful of alternative lifestyles. Authors of THE BIRDCAGE, 1996 farce directed by Mike Nichols, got away simply by making even more laugh out of more "acceptable" targets.

The plot of the film is based on 1978 French classic LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, later adapted for Broadway. It starts in South Beach, Florida where Armand Goldman (played by Robin Williams) openly gay owner of a drag bar lives together with his biggest star, flaming drag queen Albert (played by Nathan Lane). Their idyll is spoiled thanks to Val (played by Dan Futterman), product of Armand's one and only relationship with the member of opposite sex. Val doesn't seem to mind his father's lifestyle, but the parents of his fiancee Barbara (played by Calista Flockhart) certainly would. Val's future father-in- law is Kevin Keeley (played by Gene Hackman), ultra-conservative Republican senator from Ohio whose major ally has just died in the bed with underage black prostitute. In desperate need to remind voters of his family values Keeley decides to meet his future in-laws and travels to Florida with his wife Louise (played by Diane Wiest). Armand and Albert are caught off guard, and before Senator arrives they must "clean up" their act and pretend to be "normal" heterosexual couple.

Made during the election year, THE BIRDCAGE had the original plot updated and served as an excellent opportunity for pro-Clinton Hollywood to remind the audience that having Republican into White House was fate worse than death. Elaine May's script makes a savage attack on the bigotry, hypocrisy of right-wing Republicans; this serves as good way for the film to shield itself from the more sensitive elements within American gay community, at least those who would loudly complain about cliched and stereotypical portrayal of gay characters as flaming drag queens. May's script provides few very funny moments and the acting is mostly good, especially in the case of Robin Williams who gives surprisingly constrained portrayal of "butch" homosexual. On the other hand, some of the actors aren't very memorable, especially Futterman and Flockhart in really thankless roles. And the opportunities for even more farce are wasted, mostly thanks to Mike Nichols whose directorial style gives impression of turning Jim Carrey's comedy into Ingmar Bergman's drama. THE BIRDCAGE, especially at the end, starts looking less like a movie and more like a stage play. In the end, despite few laughs, many viewers are going to be disappointed and completely aware that the opportunity for really hilarious film was wasted.

Copyright 2003 Dragan Antulov

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