In the wake of Robin William’s passing, many are watching his films and taking a look back at his incredible career. One of his finest work is in Mike Nichols’ The Birdcage. Based on the play La Cage Aux Follies, a gay couple agrees to put on a false straight front so that their son can introduce them to his fiancées conservative right-wing parents. The conservative vs. liberals theme is something even more relevant today, nearly eighteen years later, with the fight for gay marriage. The Birdcage is an entertaining comedy that also sheds light on many social issues.
Although the role of Albert- the over-the-top drama queen- seems the perfect fit for Robin Williams, he chose to play Armand, an atypical gay male, the more ‘manly’ of the relationship. He said that “I thought: I want to try something different, something more elegant. People expect me to be the more flamboyant one. I wanted something new. It’s a dry, restrained comedy, versus being so outrageous, and that’s what was interesting for me. It’s like learning a whole different set of muscles.”
(That fall was was accidental, but Robin Williams just kept on going!)
His portrayal of Armand shows the depth of his comedic work. Doing away with the flamboyant characters he was known for, he showed that he could do wry comedy just as well. Robin Williams could do it all. His talent was immeasurable. Not only does his role of Armand offer incredible comedic moments as ‘the straight man’, but also profound and deeper moments. Armand keeps his sexuality a little closer to his heart, unlike Albert. “I know who I am. Val.” He says. “It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna let some idiot senator destroy that.”
Nathan Lane is equally on par with Williams as Albert. His extensive theatre background allows him to play the part to a tee. The pair of them have absolutely fantastic comedic chemistry, and their amusing lines and scenes together show their incredible gifts at improv. Nathan Lane and Robin Williams also wonderfully show the tender side of their marriage and relationship. Armand says the Albert, “I’m fifty years old. There’s only one place in the world that I call home, and it’s because you’re there.” Their connection and lines like these give The Birdcage emotional soul that only adds to the uproarious comedy.
Gene Hackman and Dianne Weist play the Republican couple- their out-of-touch ridiculousness and naiveté that comes with their obsession with morality leads to many gut-busting moments. Nothing quite tops the hilarity of the long dinner scene between the couples. Hank Azaria as the flashy Guatemalan Agador provides some of the biggest laughs, whether he’s dancing to the conga in hot pants, tripping because he never wears shoes, or skimming the pool in a thong.
The Birdcage does wrap things up a little too quickly, and the political ‘tensions’ are all tossed to the side for a cute finale (Gene Hackman in drag. That’s all I’m saying.) But it’s a sweet comedy that is absolutely packed with laughs. And what is wonderful about The Birdcage is that it doesn’t delve into stereotypes. Even though the there are over-the-top characters they are just so earnest and endearing.
The Birdcage shows that it is more absurd to disguise yourself as someone else rather than to unveil your true self. Whether that’s gay, straight, or otherwise. Albert and Armand are just as loving and tender to each other and their family as any straight couple are. GLADD praised the film for “going beyond the stereotypes to see the character’s depth and humanity. The film celebrates the differences and points out the outrageousness at hiding these differences”
In The Birdcage, anyone can be family, no matter how different. Robin Williams said on the film “Maybe in the process of laughing there can be more acceptance.” The Birdcage is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and the perfect way to celebrate the joy and laughter that Robin Williams brought to all of us. Thank you Robin Williams for inspiring us to accept and love our accept our differences.