One of our all-time favorite comedies, 1996’s THE BIRDCAGE is a fast-paced, hilarious winner with an incredible cast both in front of and behind the camera.
Robin Williams is excellent as Armand Goldman, owner of a hugely popular drag club on the shores of South Beach. His number one star is his husband Albert, played to perfection by Nathan Lane in his breakout film role.
Watching the early scenes with Armand trying to satisfy his diva partner Albert on and off stage, I was struck by what a great straight man Wiliams was for Lane’s over-the-top, LOL Albert/Starina. Credit legendary director Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Carnal Knowledge) for navigating Robin to some of his best work.
When Armand’s 20-year-old son Val (Dan Futterman) comes home with the surprise news that he’s getting married to his college girlfriend Barbara (Calista Flockhart), Armand & Albert are shocked. When Val tells them that she and her parents are coming to visit the next day, their lives are turned upside down.
What they don’t know is that Barbara’s father is the ultra-conservative Senator Keeley, co-founder of the Committee for Moral order. He’s trying to escape from a very embarrassing scandal involving his co-founder that’s the headline on every channel. He and his wife, the very proper Barbara Bush-like Louise (Dianne Wiest nailing every line) think the perfect escape from that publicity would be a fast trip to Miami to visit the Bushes and the Goldmans.
When their two VERY different worlds collide, the laughs are non-stop.
Hank Azaria steals every scene he’s in as the Goldman’s Butler/Houseman Agador. His inability to wear shoes, make dinner or play it straight are some of the best moments in the film.
Christine Baranski is terrific as Katharine, Val’s mom who he’s never met, who might be the perfect cover when the Keeley’s arrive.
Screenwriter Elaine May (A New Leaf, Heaven Can Wait) is at her brilliant best. She doesn’t miss one opportunity in the culture clash between flamboyant Albert and the uber conservative senator.
On first viewing, the biggest surprise for me was how funny Gene Hackman is here. His comic timing is flawless and the final scene in the nightclub remains an all-time classic.
So many great scenes. Albert’s attempt to walk like John Wayne, Armand’s barrage of dance instructions on stage (Fosse! Fosse! Twyla Tharp! Twyla Tharp!) and of course the entire dinner scene that fills most of the last 30 minutes of the film.
I’ve rarely laughed as much and as often as I do every time that I watch this near perfect two-hour comedy and damned if it doesn’t feel 90 minutes long. Perfectly paced, written and performed, THE BIRDCAGE gets an A.
Film buffs: if you haven’t seen it, look for the original 1978 French film “La Cage aux Folles”. It’s damn funny and an enjoyable companion piece to its American counterpart.