The Birdcage

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The Birdcage
Birdcage imp.jpg
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
Francis Veber
Starring Robin Williams
Gene Hackman
Nathan Lane
Dianne Wiest
Music by Stephen Sondheim
Cinematography Emmanuel Lubezki
Edited by Arthur Schmidt
Nichols Film Company
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • March 8, 1996 (1996-03-08)
Running time 118 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $31 million[1]
Box office $185,260,553

The Birdcage is a 1996 American comedy film directed by Mike Nichols, and stars Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, and Dianne Wiest. Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart, Hank Azaria, and Christine Baranski appear in supporting roles. The script was written by Elaine May. It is a remake of the 1978 Franco-Italian film, La Cage aux Folles, by Jean Poiret and Francis Veber, starring Michel Serrault and Ugo Tognazzi.


Val Goldman and Barbara Keeley are engaged to be married, and wish to have their families meet. Val's father, Armand, owns The Birdcage, a drag club in South Beach. His domestic partner is Albert, who appears regularly as "Starina", the show's star drag queen. Barbara's father is ultraconservative Republican Senator Kevin Keeley of Stow, Ohio. He is up for reelection and is also co-founder of the "Coalition for Moral Order". Fearing their reaction if they learn the truth about Val's parents, Barbara tells her parents that Armand is a cultural attaché to Greece, that Albert is a housewife, and that they divide their time between Greece and Florida; she also changes the family's last name from Goldman to Coleman to hide their Jewish background.

Kevin receives a phone call telling him that Senator Jackson, Kevin's colleague and co-founder of the Coalition for Moral Order, has been found dead in the bed of an underage African-American prostitute; the event receives a large amount of coverage in the media. Louise Keeley proposes a visit to meet their new in-laws as a diversion to save Kevin's political career, and Barbara's marriage into a white, "traditional, wholesome" all-American family will give the Senator excellent public relations material. Barbara phones Val in South Beach about the lies she has told her parents. Val convinces Armand to go along with the farce. Armand has the house redecorated in an austere manner, and begins remaking himself as an unassuming, conventional, heterosexual American male. He contacts Val's biological mother, Katherine, and she agrees to join in the charade he is planning.

Despite the changes to the house, which include removing insinuations of "intimate" sexual likeness in their relationship, Armand realizes that Albert's outlandish, effeminate mannerisms will reveal the true nature of the Goldman household. Armand asks Albert not to be present for the dinner party that evening; Albert is hurt and angry and threatens to leave Armand. A compromise is reached where Albert will act as Val's uncle, but this soon falls apart when Albert cannot convincingly pretend to be heterosexual. Another argument ensues and Albert locks himself in his bedroom.

As the evening draws nearer, Agador Spartacus, the Goldman's flamboyant gay housekeeper, has been made into a butler and chef for the evening, despite the fact that he cannot cook and never wears shoes. The Keeleys arrive at Armand's residence, but Katherine, who is to attend the dinner, is stuck in traffic. Kevin and Louise are worried that Armand's nervousness is because he has heard about the Jackson scandal and is uncomfortable having the Keeleys in his house. Suddenly, Albert emerges dressed as a middle-aged mother. Armand and Val are horrified, fearing that Katherine's arrival will destroy the illusion. Agador has prepared nothing for dinner but a bizarre soup containing shrimp and hard-boiled eggs. Despite the many challenges facing them, Armand, Val and Barbara all act the part and interact with Albert as "Mrs. Coleman".

The Carlyle hotel was used on set for The Birdcage

Before dinner, Louise notices that the soup bowls depict men in homoerotic poses in a classical Greek style. Armand insists that she is mistaken and promptly fills everyone's bowl with the soup before the Keeleys can take a closer look. The primary topic of conversation is politics and, despite many potential pitfalls, Albert wins over the Senator with a very right-wing tirade on the moral collapse of American society. Louise is still suspicious due to the terrible dinner and Armand's frequent exits from the dining room. Kevin defends Albert as a true lady and remarks that Armand is just a "pretentious European". Val leaves a note for Katherine on the front door informing her not to come inside, but two paparazzi photographers, hoping for a scoop, remove the note. Katherine arrives and introduces herself as "Mrs. Goldman". Kevin demands to know why there are two Mrs. Colemans; Val realizes that he cannot keep lying and pulls off Albert's wig, explaining to the Keeleys that while Katherine is his biological mother, Albert is his primary mother figure. Kevin and Louise are taken aback upon learning that Albert and Armand are gay Jewish nightclub owners. Louise breaks down and as Kevin announces that they are leaving, he demands that Barbara come with them. However, the Keeleys have been followed by paparazzi and are trapped as news crews arrive.

The Goldmans, Keeleys, Katherine and Agador consider the best plan of action. Val and Barbara explain why they deceived Kevin and Louise and are forgiven, but the Keeleys fear being tangled up in a scandal if spotted in a gay nightclub. Albert choreographs the Keeleys' escape by dressing them in drag and having them leave the club as the night's show ends. The plan works and none of the media crews recognize Kevin, Louise or Barbara. The group leaves South Beach with Katherine. Val and Barbara are married in an interfaith ceremony attended by both families.



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.[2] 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," was originally 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.[3]


The Birdcage opened on March 8, 1996 and grossed $18,275,828 in its opening weekend, topping the box office.[4] It remained at #1 for the next three 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, coming down to a $185,260,553 worldwide total.[5]

The film holds a 77% "Fresh" rating at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 critic reviews, which are summarized by the site thus: "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."[6] The review aggregator Metacritic reported that the film received "generally favorable" reviews, with a score of 72% based on 18 reviews.[7]

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."[8] The film was also nominated for a GLAAD Media Award.[9]

The film was nominated for American Film Institute's 2000 list, "100 Years...100 Laughs".[10]

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