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   THE BIRDCAGE (1996) 

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CAST
Robin Williams
Nathan Lane
Dan Futterman
Gene Hackman
Dianne Wiest
Calista Flockhart
Hank Azaria
Christine Baranski

DIRECTED BY
Mike Nichols

PURCHASE


DVD




Time: 119 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Comedy

Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction.


SYNOPSIS: A young man must hide the secret of his "parentege" – he was raised by two gay men – from his conservative girlfriend's parents at a dinner party celebrating the couples' engagement.

BOTTOM LINE: I have been a huge fan of Robin Williams since he was Mork from Ork and consider him to be an amazing actor, especially when he chooses to channel his energy. He is the god of comic timing and the BIRDCAGE showcases his talent in a new way for most people, by constraining it. His performance and Nichols firm direction anchor what could have been nothing more than a string of clichés. Lane plays "the woman" in their relationship, giving Williams the chance to play one of few straight roles he's ever had...so to speak.

His character, Armand, is a gay nightclub owner, who lives in South Beach with his "wife" Albert, played by Nathan Lane. Armand is certainly the less effeminate of the two, but no one could mistake him for a heterosexual man. They are very happy and have a fairly unexciting life – that is until Armand's son Val (he was conceived in a dalliance years before so that Armand and Albert could have a family) announces that he's engaged. The only problem is that his fiancée (Flockheart) is the daughter of an extreme right-wing senator, played by Hackman, for whom the lives of his potentially new in-laws would create quite a problem on re-election day.

As one would expect, chaos ensues when they try to convince the senator and his wife, played by Dianne Wiest, over dinner that they are a regular, happy, non-Jewish, heterosexual family. It's one close call after another mainly due to the bumbling of their houseboy Agadar Sparticus (in a brilliant, swishy, almost annoying turn by Hank Azaria). The dinner turns out to be just soup, which Spartacus serves in less than appropriate soup bowls. Albert, made-up as a woman and pretending to be Val's mother, talks the senator's ear off, telling him exactly what he wants to hear and spinning yarns about their family neither Armand nor Val can keep straight. When it seems they might get off the hook, Val's birth mother – who they enlisted to help – finally shows up which ends the charade, much to the shock of the senator.


"What we really need is a woman. We can get away with Albert as an uncle if we had a woman as a mother. Ironic, isn't it? When you need a woman..."

The performances are dead-on funny, without ever quite jumping the shark. Williams gives one of his more subtle performances. I know he's playing gay, but he is very touching as a man who's proud of his life, but hides it and pretends to be somebody else because he loves his son. Nathan Lane is spectacular. Albert is so sweet and vulnerable, you can't help but love him. He really tries to help, though it rarely works out like he plans. Gene Hackman also stretches his comedy muscles, while taken in by Lane's cross-dressing turn. Wiest and Flockhart are merely along for the ride. This is a man's world and they took all the best dialogue for themselves. THE BIRDCAGE is a comedy about family, honesty and frankly, just being proud of who you are. It is worth watching for the dinner scene alone. If this film doesn't make your sides split with laughter, you don't know what funny is.


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