Welcome to Redeeming Features. The blog where I (poorly) review movies that are underappreciated, underrated or under the radar, in hopes of convincing you to give them a second chance. This week, we have a little change of taste. Instead of your typical Hollywood bank buster, we have a delightful little ditty, originally written for stage and adapted for the screen. I should also probably preface that this film, while it did VERY well in its gayday, is still relatively unknown; especially among my unfortunate generation. (read: whippersnappers.)
*rolls eyes; puts on an Aqua cassette*
So, let’s take off our clothes and open the closet door to this week’s flick – The Birdcage, starring, well, a butt load of people. You see, lately we’ve been covering some of my favorite plot-driven flicks; but now, it’s all about that face. And those faces are (take a deep breath): Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Dan Futterman, Ally McBeal, Hank Azaria, and Christine Baranski. So many actors, not enough screen time. But they all play their characters perfectly.
And since we have such a strong, character-driven film, I’d like to review a little differently. I’mma hit it and quit it with a little synopsis of each main character, served with a side of snark, and wrapped up with a delicious little plot outline that I think you’ll find both tasty and interesting. But will undoubtedly (hopefully*) leave you wanting more.
Up first, Armand Goldman (Robin Williams). Armand is a gay man who owns a popular drag nightclub in South Miami obviously called, The Birdcage. In The Birdcage, The Birdcage is the centerpiece of the entire film, and in a lot of ways, is a character in and of itself. But I digress. Armand is an openly gay man, but edges more on the side of “masculine,” which will reveal itself later in the film. He manages the club’s day-to-day, while night-to-night he manages the club’s leading talent: his long-time partner and confidant, Albert.
Albert Goldman (Nathan Lane) is The Birdcage’s No. 1 drag star. Star lighting as Starina, Albert is, in the words of my East Texas relatives, “gayer than the day is long.” But boy is he adorable. And, if we’re being honest, does one hell of a John Wayne impersonation.
Manic in nature, Albert brings as much passion to the stage as he does compassion for his family. Dancing around his true self, in every effort to protect “his” and Armand’s son, Val.
Val (Dan Futterman) is the teenage “son” of Armand and Albert. Well, technically he’s just Armand’s biological son, made with his biological mother, Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski). But Albert loves him as his own. And, TECHNICALLY, Val is not passing as teenaged. That doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot, but man is annoying when casting directors try to play off a man with visibly noticeable two-oclock shadow as a young chicken. Val, on break from university, visits his parents to introduce them to his new fiance, Ally McBeal. Yeah, I said introduce. They eloped like the stars of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.”
Ally McBeal (Barbara Keeley [Calista Flockhart]) is Val’s super OMG totes presh little angel fiancé. Ally and Val come home to Miami to meet the parents, and in a not-so-polite manner, let them know last minute that her parents will actually be joining them. Her parents, of course, are Ohio Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) and Mrs. Keeley (Dianne Wiest). Hmmmm, I wonder if her traditional Republican upbringing will cause any shenanigans. Hmmmmmmmm. HMMMMM.
Senator Keeley (Gene Hackman), caught in the throws of a political partner’s underage sex scandal, seeks hideaway in the most seemingly surreptitious spot – gay ole Miami, Flo-Rida. He and Mrs. Keeley agree to head down the banana belt, operating under the impression that Val’s parents are the COLEmans. The COLEmans hail from Greece; Armand, a cultural attaché and Val’s mother, an ordinary housewife living a normal Ohio-approved life only taking breaks from her womanly duties when the “maid” fills in.
The “maid,” Agador Spartacus (Hank Azaria), is… honestly, too much for words. You’ll have to just see this Gloria-Estefan-singing, soup-ruining, short-short wearing prince in all his hairlessly immaculate glory.
Phew. Now that we got that out of the way, let’s top this synopsis sundae with a real cherry of a plot.
(Takes a much bigger breath than earlier) Drag nightclub owner’s definitely not teenaged son brings Ally McBeal home to meet the gay parents with aforementioned McBeal’s super Republican politician parents in toe. And if that’s not entertaining enough for you, it’s got drag queens, drag kings, drag teens, main drags, dame drags, drag scenes, drag in drag, drag on drag, and even dragon drag. To the say the least, The Birdcage does not drag its glittery heels jumping into the drag.
All I can say is: if you like drag, you’ll love The Birdcage. Also if you like quick banter, seamlessly interwoven character stories, countless movie trope parodies, or just wanna see Robin Williams and Nathan Lane play out their adorably opposite and precociously perfunct relationship. Which, who doesn’t?
TL; DR – a gay club owner and his drag Queen agree to put on a false front for their son’s fiancée's right-wing father and mother.
Cody Tidmore is a Level Two sketch student at DCH. He’s been watching movies for as long as he can remember. Seeing it all – the good, the bad, even the ugly. And when it comes to annoyingly working movie quotes into regular conversation, he’s the reel deal.