The Birdcage

1996, R, 119 min. Directed by Mike Nichols. Starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Christine Baranski, Hank Azaria.

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., March 8, 1996

The Birdcage

Fans of Edouard Molinaro's La Cage aux Folles may rest assured that Mike Nichols' adaptation of the famed French film (itself based on a French play) remains quite faithful to its predecessor. Reuniting with longtime writing collaborator Elaine May, Nichols features Williams as Armand Goldman, a gay, middle-aged nightclub owner whose 20-year-old son Val (Dan Futterman) returns home from college to announce his engagement to the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of a politically conservative U.S. senator. A moment of celebration in most households, Val's news wreaks havoc when he asks Armand to “play straight” for the benefit of his future in-laws, the head of the Coalition for Moral Order, Senator Keeley (Hackman) and his wife Louise (Wiest). While Armand may be up to the task, his partner and star of the nightclub's revue, Albert/Starina (Lane), does not rise to the occasion. At first. Highly temperamental and sensitive, Albert nonetheless steals the show when he passes for Armand's “wife” and almost convinces the Senator that the Goldman family is not only a beacon of conservative morals but also not Jewish. Updating the setting to Miami Beach energizes the film while the performances -- particularly the supporting roles -- make Nichols' version entertaining. Williams has his share of funny lines, but Lane receives the most laughs as the well-intentioned but emotionally unglued prima donna. Hackman and Wiest are a Democrat's worst nightmare with Wiest shining brightest toward the end of the film. As Val's birth mother Katherine, Baranski is all polish and subtle class. But the most hilarious performance in the film goes to Azaria as maid/butler Agador/Spartacus. Of television's now-defunct sitcom If Not For You, Azaria makes Agador a constant source of hilarity from his homespun advice to his transition from maid in a thong to butler in uniform for the senator's visit. Worth seeing for Azaria's performance alone, the film does an admirable job of transplanting La Cage aux Folles from Paris to Miami Beach without losing the culture. While I had difficulty understanding Armand's devotion to such a whiny and selfish son (primarily because of Futterman's acting), I enjoyed many of the other characters and Nichols' efforts to modernize and Americanize the story. A bit of a letdown in some ways, The Birdcage nonetheless features some scene-stealing performances.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Mike Nichols Films
Charlie Wilson's War
Despite a script by Aaron Sorkin, direction by Mike Nichols, and star turns by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, this good-natured geopolitical romp falls flat.

Kimberley Jones, Dec. 21, 2007

Closer
Love’s fractured fairy tale, writ small and petty and almost too real to bear without flinching.

Marc Savlov, Dec. 3, 2004

More by Alison Macor
'The Last Supper'
'The Last Supper'
'Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids: 30 Years of Filmmaking in Austin, Texas': an excerpt

Feb. 26, 2010

The First Wives Club

Sept. 20, 1996

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Birdcage, Mike Nichols, Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Christine Baranski, Hank Azaria

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle