(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.
(In French, On DVD, April 2016) There’s been a glut of kids movies with CGI animal characters lately, but an early (and enjoyable) prototype of the form can be found in 1997’s Mousehunt, in which an exceptionally intelligent mouse goes to war against two brothers trying to renovate an old house. While the film does feature a handful of CGI creatures (usually easy to spot), most of the mouse scenes are shot using real trained mice, and the result, in all of its limitations, is surprisingly enjoyable. It helps that Mousehunt features some real good physical comedy, and earns a number of honest laughs along the way. Nathan Lane and Lee Evans are fine as the brothers battling against insolvency and a smarter-than-they-are mouse, but Christopher Walken has a very good small role as an exterminator who finds his match. Still, the star here is director Gore Verbinski’s efforts at orchestrating mayhem as the war between the mouse and the humans escalates to pure chaos. There’s quite a bit of wit to the way the film is put together, balancing entertainment with a darker-than-necessary tone. Much of the film can be seen coming in advance, but there are enough small surprises here and there to keep things interesting and funny. For some reason, Mousehunt doesn’t seem to have endured all that well twenty years later, which is a shame given how it combines humour, action and small furry creatures appealing to kids, while having just enough cleverness and suspense to appeal to adults. (One note, though: the opening cockroach scene is disturbing to young kids. Heed the PG rating, especially given the small much-darker hints in the dialogue.) It’s quite a bit better than you’d expect … or possibly remember.