Retro Review: The Birdcage
The 90s were an eclectic mixture of films but somehow seem, when looking back, that they consisted mostly of comedies. Films like Soapdish with Robert Downey Jr., Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Cathy Moriarty (ominous name!), Elisabeth Shue, Whoopi Goldberg and Tery Hatcher and Muriel’s Wedding with Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths set the tone for the films of the decade which a few dealt with homosexual issues.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is one, starring Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce (Filmophilia Legend) and Terrence Stamp. Another one is To Wong Fu, Thanks For Everything Julie Newmar with Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze and John Leguizamo and In & Out with Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack and Tom Selleck.
The two families have to meet eventually but to do so Armand and Albert have to play it straight. But Albert isn’t really capable of doing so. And silliness ensues.
The relationship between Armand and Albert is coloured by the time the film is made. It plays on the stereotypes that one individual has to be feminine for the relationship to work. Albert is a drag-queen and has a regular spot (and is the star) in Armand’s club.
Albert is clearly the “woman” of the relationship, does the washing and wears the make-up – although Armand does wear foundation and shrieks when a bottle of Champagne is popped.
However, their relationship is believable because Williams and Lane do a convincing job. Their relationship is superbly written, while the relationship between the Keeleys (Hackman and Wiest) is a bit stiff.
That was probably done intentionally, though, to show the extreme difference between the couples. The Senator’s “stupidity” regarding homosexual issues is underlined when he doesn’t recognise Albert in a drag as a man in drag but actually believes it is Val’s (Dan Futterman) mother. And his extreme fondness towards her hurts his wife, who hasn’t seen this affectionate side of him for years.
The Guatemalan Agador (Azaria), is, in the middle of over the top characters, the comedic outlet – getting all the best bits of hilarity. Which includes him falling over every time he wears shoes.
The costume and make-up departments do a very good job with the drag queens scattered around the film. The music department, however, picked very traditional drag queen songs (and other songs that are connected to the gay world). This is to be expected though, since the film is set partly inside a drag club.
Despite the serious undertones (more like overtones) of homophobia in the film, it is a pretty hilarious film at that.
Nathan Lane, Hank Azaria and Robin Williams are in their comedic element, while Gene Hackman and Dianne Wiest seem to be a bit out of theirs. And Calista Flockhart and Dan Futterman are almost forgotten in the background, behind their larger than life co-stars.
Christine Baranski’s talent is mostly wasted on her small role as Val’s mother, and is purely there to make it possible for Lane to be in drag as his mother instead.
Final Verdict: A superbly written film with many funny aspects, and serious ones too, The Birdcage is one of the best ’90s comedies. Lane, Williams and Azaria do splendid jobs at delivering their roles with conviction while Hackman and Wiest seem a bit out of their comfort zones, but they do it convincingly enough. Futterman and Flockhart, however, fade into the background of the colourful characters of their co-stars.
Highly recommended film if you want a good laugh.