A gay cabaret owner and his drag queen companion agree to put up a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancée’s right-wing moralistic parents.
Robin Williams has that tenacious ability to either make you really like him or hate him. Personally, I like Mr. Williams. Naturally, there are times when he can be very frenetic, (“Mork & Mindy”, “Good Morning Vietnam”), that is of course, how got started in the business but when he needs to tone it down, he can do so very convincingly, ala “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Good Will Hunting”, for which he won an Oscar.
In “The Birdcage”, Mr. Williams plays Armand Goldman, a middle-aged gay man who owns a drag nightclub in South Beach in Florida and who lives with his companion and lover, Albert (Nathan Lane). When Armand’s son Val (Dan Futterman) drops by unannounced to tell him that he is marrying his school sweetheart Barbara (a very young Calista Flockhart), all hell breaks loose.
Apparently, Barbara’s father, Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman), a U.S. Republican senator and also the vice-president of the Committee for Moral Order, is up for re-election and has just found out that his running mate died in a motel room with an underage hooker so suffice to say, he’s not having a very good month.
After Val and Barbara announce their engagement, Barbara’s mother Louise (Dianne Wiest), thinks a wedding would be a great way to avoid having to talk to the press and in no time, they are southbound towards Armand’s residence. The only problem is, Val insists that his father has to pretend to be straight in order to keep up appearances and convert his den of queens into a palace of heterosexual virility.
It’s seemingly clear that Armand is able to get away with it but Albert is the real problem. He is not only very flamboyant, he is also the lead in the club’s show each night so he is privy to unpredictable and neurotic emotional outbursts and trying to have him conform to being a straight man for one evening, is going to take a miracle. The premise itself is very straightforward but there is such an eclectic and accomplished cast hard at work here that they make it appear seamless.
Director Mike Nichols (“The Graduate, “Working Girl”) pulls all the right strings and thankfully, Mr. Williams is more restrained than usual and because of it, his performance is all the better. However, it’s Mr. Lane who steals the show. He is overly-affectionate and constantly distraught and watching Mr. Williams teach him how to hold a piece of toast in a manly demeanor or walk like John Wayne, are amongst the film’s funniest scenes. A very funny movie.
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