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The Birdcage is a rare thing. A remake that’s as good as, if not better than, the original. A huge box office hit with LGBT themes and a cast of characters mostly over the age of 40. And finally, a broad farce that somehow remains grounded in a genuinely moving emotional core.
Most of the credit for this has to go to assured direction from the great Mike Nichols – much more comfortable here than in his experiment with horror with Wolf – a hilarious screenplay by Elaine May, and one of the most talented comic casts ever assembled. Reliable showboat Robin Williams ironically delivered one of his most restrained performances here as the (relatively) straight laced half of a middle aged gay couple. As his high-maintenance life partner Albert, Nathan Lane brought his years of stage experience to bear in one of the greatest comic performances of the decade, a hysterical drama queen who nevertheless always retains a core of warmth and humanity.
On the other side of this campy drama, the film also indulges in some sly social commentary in its portrayal of Kevin Keeley, a conservative senator played to perfection by Gene Hackman, whose hypocritical buffoonery only reads as funnier and more relevant in the Trump era. As his eternally optimistic but slyly calculating wife Dianne Wiest also grabs huge laughs from what could have been throwaway lines.
If there’s a weak link, it is, predictably, Dan Futterman as Val, Williams’ son whose desperation to marry a very young looking Calista Flockhart sets the plot in motion. To be fair to Futterman, it’s a near-impossible role to make sympathetic, and he has the fewest opportunities to be funny. Nevertheless, his dismissive and petulant treatment of everybody around him strikes a rare sour tone in this otherwise joyous movie.
As with Mrs Doubtfire, the prospect of a sequel to The Birdcage in the absence of Robin Williams doesn’t seem particularly appealing. But in terms of pure thought experimentation, we did find ourselves wondering how Albert might cope without the support of his beloved Armand. Not to mention how his loyal houseboy Agador might have adapted to life in his mid-fifties. Would he still be rocking those crop tops and denim cutoffs? We certainly hope so…
You can check out our sequel ideas for The Birdcage on all good podcasting platforms by using the links at the top of this blog post or searching for Beyond The Box Set. If you enjoy the show, please consider hitting subscribe for a new episode every Friday morning, and leave us a review on your chosen platform if you want to make us feel extra special.
Next week, we’ll be bringing on another guest to discuss a movie very close to our hearts indeed. Until then, happy listening and remember – you can always get more toast.