The Birdcage

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Val Goldman and Barbara Keeley are engaged to be married, and wish to have their families meet. Val’s father, Armand, owns The Birdcage, a drag club in South Beach. His domestic partner is Albert, who appears regularly as “Starina”, the show’s star drag queen. Barbara’s father is ultraconservative Republican Senator Kevin Keeley of Stow, Ohio. He is up for reelection and is also co-founder of the “Coalition for Moral Order”. Fearing their reaction if they learn the truth about Val’s parents, Barbara tells her parents that Armand is a cultural attaché to Greece, that Albert is a housewife, and that they divide their time between Greece and Florida; she also changes the family’s last name from Goldman to Coleman to hide their Jewish background.

Kevin receives a phone call telling him that Senator Jackson, Kevin’s colleague and co-founder of the Coalition for Moral Order, has been found dead in the bed of an underage African-American prostitute; the event receives a large amount of coverage in the media. Louise Keeley proposes a visit to meet their new in-laws as a diversion to save Kevin’s political career, and Barbara’s marriage into a white, “traditional, wholesome” all-American family will give the Senator excellent public relations material. Barbara phones Val in South Beach about the lies she has told her parents. Val convinces Armand to go along with the farce. Armand has the house redecorated in an austere manner, and begins remaking himself as an unassuming, conventional, heterosexual American male. He contacts Val’s biological mother, Katherine, and she agrees to join in the charade he is planning.

Despite the changes to the house, which include removing insinuations of “intimate” sexual likeness in their relationship, Armand realizes that Albert’s outlandish, effeminate mannerisms will reveal the true nature of the Goldman household. Armand asks Albert not to be present for the dinner party that evening; Albert is hurt and angry and threatens to leave Armand. A compromise is reached where Albert will act as Val’s uncle, but this soon falls apart when Albert cannot convincingly pretend to be heterosexual. Another argument ensues and Albert locks himself in his bedroom.

As the evening draws nearer, Agador Spartacus, the Goldman’s flamboyant gay housekeeper, has been made into a butler and chef for the evening, despite the fact that he cannot cook and never wears shoes. The Keeleys arrive at Armand’s residence, but Katherine, who is to attend the dinner, is stuck in traffic. Kevin and Louise are worried that Armand’s nervousness is because he has heard about the Jackson scandal and is uncomfortable having the Keeleys in his house. Suddenly, Albert emerges dressed as a middle-aged mother. Armand and Val are horrified, fearing that Katherine’s arrival will destroy the illusion. Agador has prepared nothing for dinner but a bizarre soup containing shrimp and hard-boiled eggs. Despite the many challenges facing them, Armand, Val and Barbara all act the part and interact with Albert as “Mrs. Coleman”.

Before dinner, Louise notices that the soup bowls depict men in homoerotic poses in a classical Greek style. Armand insists that she is mistaken and promptly fills everyone’s bowl with the soup before the Keeleys can take a closer look. The primary topic of conversation is politics and, despite many potential pitfalls, Albert wins over the Senator with a very right-wing tirade on the moral collapse of American society. Louise is still suspicious due to the terrible dinner and Armand’s frequent exits from the dining room. Kevin defends Albert as a true lady and remarks that Armand is just a “pretentious European”. Val leaves a note for Katherine on the front door informing her not to come inside, but two paparazzi photographers, hoping for a scoop, remove the note. Katherine arrives and introduces herself as “Mrs. Goldman”. Kevin demands to know why there are two Mrs. Colemans; Val realizes that he cannot keep lying and pulls off Albert’s wig, explaining to the Keeleys that while Katherine is his biological mother, Albert is his primary mother figure. Kevin and Louise are taken aback upon learning that Albert and Armand are gay Jewish nightclub owners. Louise breaks down and as Kevin announces that they are leaving, he demands that Barbara come with them. However, the Keeleys have been followed by paparazzi and are trapped as news crews arrive.

The Goldmans, Keeleys, Katherine and Agador consider the best plan of action. Val and Barbara explain why they deceived Kevin and Louise and are forgiven, but the Keeleys fear being tangled up in a scandal if spotted in a gay nightclub. Albert choreographs the Keeleys’ escape by dressing them in drag and having them leave the club as the night’s show ends. The plan works and none of the media crews recognize Kevin, Louise or Barbara. The group leaves South Beach with Katherine. Val and Barbara are married in an interfaith ceremony attended by both families


My initial plan when I added The Birdcage to my Netflix queue was to do a string of Robin Williams’ films following his death. Unfortunately, timing was bad and I just wasn’t able to get that done. However, those films are still in my list and I will be getting to them slowly but surely. Now, let’s have some fun with Williams in his comedic element, shall we?

What is this about?

Longtime gay lovers Armand and Albert feel compelled to pass themselves off as a “normal” family when Armand’s son announces his intent to marry.

What did I like?

Dude playing a dude acting like another dude. In today’s Hollywood, gay actors are often playing straight roles a la Neil Patrick Harris and straight actors have been known to play gay roles, Erick McCormick from Will & Grace immediately comes to mind. Robin Williams had to play both, as he is playing a gay man who has to act as a straight man to impress his son’s future in-laws. Not an easy task for anyone to pull off, but Williams makes it look easy.

I am Spartacus. Hank Azaria is this generation’s Mel Blanc. Don’t believe me? Go look up how many characters he has voiced on The Simpsons. Every now and then, he’ll step out from behind the mic and appear in a film, usually as some over the top stereotype of a character. This time around he is a flaming…and I do men FLAMING!!! homosexual maid working for Williams and Lane as their maid. Truth be told, his character should be nothing more than an occasional quip here and there, but Azaria’s performance makes him memorable and I would imagine earned some more screentime for him. Is that accent authentic? I don’t think so, but it is hilarious to hear.

Drama queen. When talking about gay men, the term queen is thrown about quite frequently. Well, let’s take that term and use it to describe Nathan Lane’s character throughout the first 3/4 of the film, only add drama to the front of it. Yes, Lane is nothing but a drama queen, going off on some emotional tangent at the slightest pin drop. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say had estrogen in him! Yet, these outbursts make the character, so you can’t really complain.

What didn’t I like?

The shame. Here’s what pisses me off about politicians, aside from the fact that they get paid year round for maybe 3 weeks of actual work and can give themselves raises whenever they want, while their constituents suffer. Everything is about image with these lesser lifeforms, especially when it comes time for them to get re-elected. This means if their child is in love with someone who doesn’t fit their political platform/agenda, the relationship either has to end or go underground. Calista Flockhart’s character is nearly a victim of this, as her dad is the head of some morality committee and is running for re-election. Obviously, morality and homosexuality do not go hand in hand, especially back in the day when this was made (1996). Thank goodness attitudes have changed…somewhat.

Scum of the earth. As bad as politicians are, reporters are worse! Who gets in a car and tails someone halfway across the country just to get a picture and maybe, just maybe, a story? No wonder no one likes paparazzi. Also, it should be noted that it seems as if the film wants to make this guy an actual character, but there is no development to him. When we get a scene with him and his photographer lackey, it isn’t anything worth mentioning. Literally, you could take a pee break, come back, and not miss anything because he is so irrelevant. If they insist on having him in here, they should have done something more with him.

Woman’s touch. This is a minor criticism, but I feel it should be addressed. First off, when did Christina Baranski get so hot?!? She never looks like when she appears on The Big Bang Theory. Seriously, though, how do you go 20 years without seeing your son? They mention there was some kind of deal between her and Williams that allowed her to start that place of business, but I just don’t see how she could go that long without having at least a hint of desire to see the baby she birthed. It isn’t like she is some cold-hearted bitch. Actually, she’s a very nice woman. I guess she just wanted to cut all ties.

When you think of the film of Robin Williams, The Birdcage is not necessarily one that immediately pops to mind. Is that because this is a bad film? Not even close, but when in comparison with Good Will Hunting, Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin, What Dreams May Come, etc. I have never seen the original play and/or movie that this was based off of, Le Cage Aux Folles, but I hear this is an honest modernization of that work. So, let’s get to it. Do I recommend this? Yes, very highly. The only drawback would be if you get offended by the stereotypical homosexual or drag queens. Otherwise, watch and enjoy!

4 out of 5 stars


2 Responses to “The Birdcage”

  1. […] whenever Robin Williams would grow out his beard, we are in for some serious drama. Case in point, Birdcage (no beard), The Fischer King (beard), and August Rush (weird soul patch thingy). Sometimes this […]

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