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|
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 1978 Franco-Italian film, La Cage aux Folles, by Édouard Molinaro, starring Michel Serrault and Ugo Tognazzi.
Armand Goldman is the openly gay owner of a drag club in South Beach called The Birdcage; his partner Albert, an extremely 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 encounter with a woman named Katherine) comes home to visit and announces that he has secretly been seeing a young woman named Barbara, whom he intends to marry. Though initially unhappy with the secrecy, Armand is thrilled by the news, along with Albert, who cannot wait to celebrate the wedding. Unfortunately, the couple learns that Barbara's parents are the ultraconservative Republican Senator Kevin Keeley and his wife Louise. Keeley, who is a co-founder for a conservative group called the "Coalition for Moral Order"—a society developed on traditional views and moral codes—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 a straight man and cultural attaché to Greece. Armand dislikes the idea of deception, 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 imitate 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 overhears Val and Armand discussing how he might ruin the whole charade, he takes offense and locks himself in his room.
The Keeleys arrive at the Goldmans' (who are calling themselves the "Colemans" 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. Despite a few near misses, including Louise discovering that all of the old-fashioned books on the shelves are Nancy Drew mysteries, Agador only preparing a soup for dinner, and the dinner plates themselves featuring Greek depictions of homosexuality, things seem to be going smoothly. 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, especially when Albert delivers tirades about the collapse of morality in the United States; the act is so convincing that Louise even becomes jealous of Albert, accusing her husband of flirting with her.
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 (and even asks the Goldmans to vote for him in an upcoming election), 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 (with Louise even being propositioned by a man who thinks she is a drag queen) and reach safety, preventing a disaster. The film concludes at Barbara and Val's interfaith wedding, which both families, including Katherine and Agador, 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, coming down to a $185,260,553 worldwide total.
The film received positive reviews upon its release, and currently holds a 79% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 47 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." 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 commented “A spirited remake of the French drag farce, has everything in place, from eyeliner to one-liner.” Owen Gleiberman from Entertainment Weekly wrote “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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- The Birdcage at Box Office Mojo
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