The Birdcage is a 1996 American comedy film directed by Mike Nichols, written by Elaine May, and starring Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, and Dianne Wiest. Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart, Hank Azaria, and Christine Baranski appear in supporting roles. It is a remake of the Franco-Italian film La Cage aux Folles (1978) by Édouard Molinaro starring Michel Serrault and Ugo Tognazzi.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Mike Nichols|
|Produced by||Mike Nichols
Neil A. Machlis
|Screenplay by||Elaine May|
|Based on||La Cage aux Folles
by Jean Poiret
|Music by||Stephen Sondheim|
|Edited by||Arthur Schmidt|
Nichols Film Company
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|8 March 1996|
Armand Goldman is the openly gay owner of a drag club in South Beach called The Birdcage; his partner Albert, an effeminate and flamboyant man, plays "Starina", the star attraction of the club. They live together in an apartment above The Birdcage with Agador, their flamboyant Guatemalan housekeeper who dreams of being in Albert's drag show as well.
One day, Armand's son Val (born after Armand had a one-night stand with a woman named Katherine) comes home to visit and announces that he has been seeing a young woman named Barbara, whom he intends to marry. Although unhappy by the news, Armand agrees to support his son. Unfortunately, Barbara's parents are the ultraconservative Republican Senator Kevin Keeley and his wife Louise.
Keeley, who is co-founder of a conservative group called the Coalition for Moral Order, becomes embroiled in a political scandal when his co-founder and fellow Senator is found dead in the bed of an underage black prostitute. Louise and Barbara convince Senator Keeley that a visit to his daughter's fiancee's family would be the perfect way to stave off bad press, and plan to travel to South Beach as soon as possible.
Barbara shares news of her father's plan to Val; to cover the Goldmans' alternate lifestyle, she has told her parents that Armand is straight and a cultural attaché to Greece. Armand dislikes the idea of being forced into the closet, but agrees to play along, hiring contractors to redecorate the family's apartment to more closely resemble a traditional household. Albert initially wants to use his skills as a drag artist to play Val's mother, but Val and Armand fear that the trick will not work, and instead convince him to pose as Val's uncle. Armand contacts Katherine and explains the situation; she agrees to the farce, promising to come to the party and pretend to be his wife. Armand then tries to coach Albert on how to be straight, but Albert's flamboyant nature makes the task difficult. When Albert realizes his plan won't fool anyone, he takes offense and locks himself in his room.
The Keeleys arrive at the Goldmans (who are calling themselves "Coleman" for the evening to hide their Jewish heritage) redecorated apartment; they are greeted by Agador, who is passing himself off as a Greek butler named "Spartacus" for the night. Unfortunately, Katherine gets caught in traffic, and the Keeleys begin wondering where "Mrs. Coleman" is. Suddenly, Albert enters, dressed and styled as a conservative middle-aged woman. Armand, Val, and Barbara are nervous, but Kevin and Louise are tricked by the disguise.
Despite the success of the evening, trouble begins when Senator Keeley's chauffeur betrays him to two tabloid journalists who have been hoping for a scoop on the Coalition story. While they research The Birdcage, they also remove a note that Armand has left on the door informing Katherine not to come upstairs. When she finally arrives, she unknowingly reveals the deceptions. Though Armand and Albert scramble to find a new cover story, Val instead confesses to the scheme and identifies Albert as his true parent.
Senator Keeley is initially confused by the situation, but Louise both informs him of the truth and scolds him for being more concerned with his career than his family's happiness. He agrees to the marriage, but discovers that the paparazzi are waiting outside to take his picture. Albert then realizes that there is a way for the family to escape without being recognized: he dresses Kevin and Louise in drag, and they use the apartment's back entrance to sneak into The Birdcage, with Armand introducing them as a part of the club's nightly act. They all dance out of the nightclub door and reach safety, preventing a disaster. Barbara and Val are married in an interfaith service, which both families attend.
- Robin Williams as Armand Goldman
- Gene Hackman as Senator Kevin Keeley
- Nathan Lane as Albert Goldman
- Dianne Wiest as Louise Keeley
- Dan Futterman as Val Goldman
- Calista Flockhart as Barbara Keeley
- Hank Azaria as Agador Spartacus
- Christine Baranski as Katherine Archer
- Tom McGowan as Harry Radman
- Grant Heslov as National Enquirer photographer
- Kirby Mitchell as Keeley's chauffeur
A number of songs written by Stephen Sondheim were used in the film. The song that Albert rehearses during the sequence with the gum-chewing dancer is entitled "Little Dream" and was written specifically for use in the film. Albert's first song as "Starina" is "Can That Boy Foxtrot", cut from Sondheim's Follies. The song that Armand and Katherine sing and dance to in her office, "Love Is in the Air", had been intended as the opening number for the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in 1962. The song was cut from the show and replaced with Comedy Tonight.
The film opened on March 8, 1996, and grossed $18,275,828 in its opening weekend, topping the box office. It remained at #1 for the next 3 weeks before being derailed by the openings of Primal Fear and A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. By the end of its 14-week run, the film had grossed $124,060,553 domestically and $61,200,000 internationally, eventually reaching a total of US$185,260,553 worldwide.
The film received positive reviews upon its release, and as of 2017, the film holds a 79% approval rating on the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 47 critic reviews. The site's critical consensus reads: "Mike Nichols wrangles agreeably amusing performances from Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in this fun, if not quite essential, remake of the French-Italian comedy La Cage aux Folles."
The review aggregator Metacritic reported that the film received "generally favorable" reviews, with a score of 72% based on 18 reviews.
James Berardinelli wrote:
"The film is so boisterously entertaining that it's easy for the unsuspecting viewer not to realize that there's a message here."
Desson Thomson from The Washington Post described the film: "A spirited remake of the French drag farce, has everything in place, from eyeliner to one-liner." Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly called the film "Enchantingly witty".
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) praised the film for "going beyond the stereotypes to see the character's depth and humanity. The film celebrates differences and points out the outrageousness of hiding those differences." The film was also nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.
- Cross-dressing in film and television
- La Cage aux Folles, the original 1973 French play
- La Cage aux Folles, the 1983 American stage musical
- List of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender-related films by storyline
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