Director: Mike Nichols
Release Date: 8 March 1996
Running Time: 117 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Editorís Rating: 3.5 out of 4 Starinas
When this movie first came out, it was one of many movies I wasnít allowed to watch, and I was never given a reason other than it was rated R. Itís funny how easy it was for me back then to see a movieís rating and just write it off. At least, when my parents were in the room, that is. But curiosity never dies, and a few years back I watched it. And holy crap, did I miss out.
Being rated R for language, making fun of conservatives, and daring to address homosexual lifestyles in the late 90s, The Birdcage is a comedy of errors that unfold when the daughter of a prominent moral majority senator gets engaged to the son of homosexual couple Armand, a nightclub owner (Robin Williams) and Albert, a nightclub star (Nathan Lane). Featuring Gene Hackman as Senator Kevin Keeley, Dianne Wiest as his wife, thereís the classic generation gap evident very early on, as Barbara (Flockheart) cares little for the discriminatory and personal-freedom-sucking legislation her father (Hackman) is championing. Due to his outspoken demeanor and holier-than-thou public image, Barbara has kept the details very fuzzy around the subject of her fiancť Valís family. However, since theyíre to be married, her parents insist on at least meeting Valís parents so they (read: Senator Keeley) can give their blessing.
Keeley has been embroiled in scandal since his geriatric co-legislator was found dead from having a little too much fun with a prostitute. A black, highly-underage prostitute. So Senator Kevin is in total save-my-phoney-baloney-job mode, and he thinks a wedding between his daughter and some fine, upstanding young man with successful parents is just what he needs to divert attention. So they decide to take a trip to Miami to not only get away from the press, who have literally camped out at his house, but to hopefully salvage whatís left of Keeleyís image. What follows is a giant facade concocted by Val, Armand, and most awkwardly, Albert in order to pass themselves off as an upright and moral family.
Films made in the 90s werenít particularly known for their accurate interpretations of homosexuality. The Silence of the Lambs, Pulp Fiction, JFK, and even the carbon copy remake of Psycho all feature homosexual or sexually ambiguous characters that are either grossly misrepresented, murderers, or trying to kill the president.
You know, normal stuff.
While The Birdcage isnít perfect, it certainly did do a better job than any other mainstream film at the time. Some of the dialogue, especially from Albert, is a little off-center, and we have a comic relief role from Hank Azaria whose entire shtick is being the most foreign and flamboyant homosexual in Miami. To Azariaís credit though, heís one of the funniest parts of the movie. It really tries to make an attempt at accurately portraying the complications and challenges of living a gay lifestyle, and it deserves credit for that, especially considering that it doesnít need to in order to deliver most of the comedy-of-errors-style the movie gets most of its laughs from. But connecting with and feeling for the characters who have to change their lives for one night makes the comedy that much more effective, as does the inevitable point of sympathy where the house of cards goes splat.
If you have time, or are considering doing a Robin Williams movie marathon to remember our dear friend, I wholeheartedly recommend adding The Birdcage to the list. It remains one of his funniest movies, and the ensemble cast all give top-notch performances. Your shelf will miss the movieís jewel case, because itíll always be sitting on top of your DVD player. The filmís rated R, but itís really just for language and frankly addressing homosexuality. Honestly, if your kids are already watching things like The Expendables, this might be a good conversation starter.
**This movie is part of my personal collection. The opinions stated here are my own, and I have not been compensated in any way to give them.**