The Birdcage (1996)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Birdcage</strong> (1996)

(In French, On Cable TV, November 2018) Social trends shift over two decades, but if some aspects of The Birdcage are now slightly dated, the film itself remains quite a lot of fun to watch. There is, mind you, quite a pedigree to this American comedy—it’s an updated Americanization of 1978’s French farce La Cage aux Folles, which was itself a movie adaptation of a 1973 play of the same name. (And I’m not getting into the sequels to the French film nor the American musical.) In other words, the roots of The Birdcage go back to before I was born. But no matter the year, the premise is the same: A half-flamboyantly gay couple has to hide who they are as their son comes to visit with his fiancée and her ultraconservative parents. The key word here is “flamboyantly”—while issues between gay couples and social conservatives continue to be a rich source of conflict, the portrayal of the gay couple in all versions of the story does include a very camp gay character with a vested drag queen identity. The Birdcage bathes its gay characters in a warm sympathetic portrayal, which helps it a lot in being just as amusing today—the portrayal of the social conservative characters haven’t aged so well, but then again some caricatures are necessary. Now, of course, gay couples can now marry even in the United States and social conservatives are slightly more approving of them—and The Birdcage is often mentioned as one of the movies that helped move things along. Still, even though some of the details have changed, much of the movie does remain a lot of fun to watch: Robin Williams plays, if you’ll pardon the expression, the straight man to Nathan Lane’s far more exuberant character, with Hank Azaria making quite an impression as a supporting character and Gene Hackman playing ultraconservative like few others. The shrill screaming, snappy snarking and outlandish outfits clearly benefit from the drag club atmosphere, but the moral message underneath it all couldn’t be more wholesome, and the film’s portrayal of all of its characters is immensely likable. Breezy and fun, The Birdcage remains surprisingly good even more than twenty years later.

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