(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.
(On DVD, March 2016) When I say that The Smurfs 2 seems more tolerable than the first film, I’m not arguing that it’s actually better. I’m probably just reflecting on my recent (re) discovery of an entire film subgenre: the kiddy-comedies that rely on computer animation to portray animals and magical creatures as actors in ridiculous adventures. I’m thinking about the Alvin and the Chipmunks series; the Beverly Hills Chihuahua trilogy; and many others following the massive success of 1995’s Babe. Set against the best of movies aimed at the younger set, The Smurfs 2 is a piece of trash: contrived, ridiculous, ham-fisted, almost offensive in how it assumes that its audience will accept anything. But set against the second tier of movies for kids, The Smurfs 2 suddenly doesn’t look too bad. While I still feel that its CGI portrayal of Smurfs is an abomination compared to the classic animated series, it doesn’t look all that bad against the live-action backdrops. (The less said about testicle jokes, the better.) While Neal Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays and Brendan Gleeson are wasting their talents in this film, they do bring a bit of respectability to the proceedings. (Hank Azaria, on the other hand, is perfectly on target as Gargamel.) Director Raja Gosnell is an old hand at this kind of filmmaking, so it’s not a surprise that The Smurfs 2 has a few relatively competent set pieces, playing to bouncy pop music. (I note, though, that the inevitably tragic end of the runaway Ferris wheel sequence is smoothly omitted) Am I, adult reviewer, capitulating against the film’s unbearableness by making comparative excuses? Almost certainly. But, for some reason, this one didn’t seem as awful as the first. And it’s got plenty of company in its sub-genre.