THE BIRDCAGE (1996)

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Elizabeth

After the depressing horrible-ness that came on Sunday, I felt like I was in a movie funk. I just wasn’t really in the mood to watch anything. Luckily, weeks before we got tickets to a special screening of The Birdcage in honor of Nathan Lane’s birthday. It was a much-needed pick me up.

I had never seen it before, and while I knew The Birdcage would be funny, I had no idea just how funny it was. What I love most is the way the characters contrast. You have the two main characters, Armand (Robin Williams) and Albert (Nathan Lane), flamboyantly gay partners. Armand’s son, Val (Dan Futterman) is getting married to Barbara (Calista Flockhart), the daughter of an ultra conservative senator, Kevin (Gene Hackman) and his extremely mild-mannered wife, Louise (Dianne Wiest). It might seem obvious to have the antagonist be a Republican senator when the protagonists are gay men, but it’s not that simple. Armand and Albert might be a bit stereotypical (Armand owns the drag club, The Birdcage, where Albert performs), but they’re not really an average gay couple. They’re way overboard, between where they live and what they wear and how they talk, it’s all totally over the top. But on the flip side, you have Kevin, who is so comically conservative that he’s way overboard, too, almost a caricature. It’s not about having contrast to create conflict, it’s also about showing these characters as equally ridiculous. Is it ridiculous that Albert meets Kevin and his family in drag, pretending to be Val’s mother (whom Val has never met)? Completely. Is it ridiculous that Kevin would say that he doesn’t agree with killing abortion doctors, but he agrees with the outcome it brings? Totally! This movie just makes everyone look insane, which makes all the interactions that crazier, that funnier.

I need to make a special point to talk about how incredible Hank Azaria is in this, too. Robin Williams and Nathan Lane are totally on top of their game, comedy-wise. Gene Hackman is his usual amazing self, and is really particularly funny and perfect for his role. Hank Azaria plays Agador, Armand and Albert’s “houseboy.” I sort of love that they don’t really explain Agador; we first see him trying to help Armand get Albert to go on stage for a show, and he acts as their sort of maid for the rest of the movie. He’s apparently Guatemalan with the most absurd accent that no one questions. He has this one line . . . one line that made both Chris and I die laughing. Val tells Agador that he needs to get ready and put his shoes on because Barbara and her family are almost there, and Agador is dressed but barefoot. Agador very matter of factly explains to Val that he does not wear shoes because they make him fall down. What is that?? That was the last thing I expected him to say, and I know it doesn’t translate all that well to text, but it was so fucking funny. And of course, so was the inevitable shot of Agador falling on his face because of his shoes.

The Birdcage is great because its sensitive. Armand and Albert are overwhelming, but they’re also obviously in love and have quiet, sweet moments together. I never got the impression that this film is supposed to be some kind of commentary on homosexuality, mostly because it focuses so tightly on just a few characters. I also never got that impression because if you do think that this movie is a critique on homosexuality, then it’s just as much of a critique (if not more) of conservative Americans. It is so great.

Christopher

I remember watching this a few times as a kid and thinking it was one of the funniest movies I had ever seen. It was a good feeling when we went to see this and it was still great! I think I got most of it as a kid but as an adult I definitely got a lot more of the jokes. For example, as a kid, I don’t think I got the craziness of Gene Hackman’s character. I think I just always thought of him as a normal adult? But looking at that now, that kind of makes me look like I thought all adults were insane. This movie is so funny and if you have not seen it, please do it now! I don’t think I’ve ever seen the original but based off of Elizabeth’s reaction to the film I think we might be seeing that soon.

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