MOVIE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: * (out of 5)
Robin Williams as ARMAND GOLDMAN
Gene Hackman as SEN. 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
Christine Baranski as KATHERINE ARCHER
Directed by: Mike Nichols
BY KEVIN CARR
Recently, I made a list of movies that have grossed more than $100 million at the domestic box office. Out of the more than 500 titles, I had seen all but a handful, and “The Birdcage” was on that list. It was for no reason other than I never got around to seeing it. Fortunately, the newly released Blu-ray of the film gives me a chance to see it and cross it off my list.
One of the most interesting things about watching “The Birdcage” now for the first time, eighteen years after it was initially released, is that it offers a different perspective on things. In the mid-90s, the country was very different, and attitudes towards homosexuals were not exactly what they are now. Homosexuals were still marginalized in the media, often played off as jokes or caricatures.
Sure, that still happens to a certain degree now, but not to such an extreme level. It’s easy to forget that “The Birdcage” existed in a world before “Will & Grace” offered a perfectly normal gay man as the title character (even if he was awkwardly balanced by the flamboyant Jack).
Consequently, “The Birdcage” is a bit of a different film than it was in 1996. Rather than being wildly ahead of its time by tackling issues of gay marriage, gay parenthood and gay rights, it’s easily mainstream now. It’s not cutting edge, so a lot of the daringness that the film had going for it eighteen years ago isn’t nearly as shocking. In fact, watching “The Birdcage” today is a lot like watching the episode of the original “Star Trek” which featured the first interracial kiss on television between Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura. Kids today don’t even understand that was a big deal back in the 60s.
So, without the overly daring subject matter, “The Birdcage” is left to its own comedic devices. And that’s okay because it all works out for the best.
The fact is that, even outside of its 1996 progressiveness, “The Birdcage” is still a damn funny movie. It tells a realistic, heartfelt story of parents dealing with meeting the potential in-laws for the first time. It features some political culture class with two of the parents (Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) owning a drag club in South Beach and the other two a conservative Senator (Gene Hackman) and his wife (Dianne Wiest), but it doesn’t get preachy about any issue – even the gay rights issues that are so integral to the film.
This is because it’s not a political movie. It’s a comedy. It’s a screwball tale that is there to make you laugh and realize that things can turn out okay. “The Birdcage” wasn’t meant to change the world, but by not being pushy, it helped that change along.
At its core, “The Birdcage” is about human relationships. They’re extreme relationships, and they’re cross-wired to get an electric reaction, but they’re real characters nonetheless.
With its roots as a stage play, then a French film (both known as “La Cage aux Folles” in the 1970s) the movie has some timeless elements and characters that transcend national culture. With brilliant comedic performances by Williams, Lane and Hank Azaria as well as excellent deadpan delivery by Hackman and Wiest, even the most partisan person should be able to find something to laugh about in this film.
The Blu-ray looks fine for its transfer, though the disc is a bare-bones edition. Aside from the theatrical trailer, which is accessible from the pop-up menu after the standard autoplay feature seen on most MGM titles, there are no other special features.