Quickie Reviews: The Birdcage

The BirdcageReleased: March 8, 1996

Story: Val Goldman (Dan Futterman) has a problem. He wants to get married to Barbara Keeley, but she is the daughter of conservative Ohio Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman). Senator Keeley is the co-founder of the Coalition for Moral Order. When his fellow co-founder is found dead in the bed of an underage hooker, the senator is desperate for a virtuous family event to save his political career and get him re-elected. He agrees to meet Val’s parents. What he doesn’t know and what Val and his fiancee, Barbara (played by Calista Flockhart), must keep secret is that his parents (played by Robin Williams and Nathan Lane) are gay, Jewish, and run a drag club below their South Beach home. His parents go along with the plan but the dinner they throw for the Keeley’s doesn’t go as planned.

Thoughts: I grabbed a VHS copy of The Birdcage off a video shelf when I was a kid. “Robin Williams is in this?” I said to myself. “I want to see this.” I had noticed the R-rating and thought it odd. At the mere age of however-the-hell-old-I-was, I knew Williams from Aladdin, Hook, Jumanji, and Mrs. Doubtfire. I had not ventured into his more adult pieces of entertainment like Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society, The Fisher King, Awakenings (great fricken film by the way), etc. He was the funny guy from family movies. The Birdcage may be about family but it isn’t exactly appropriate for young kids. My grandmother, who owned the VHS, heard me and said I wasn’t going to watch it. I was disappointed but still obedient.

Many years later, I went downstairs to raid the fridge. My mother and sister were watching the movie on a portable  DVD player. I caught and understood most of it. It was okay. Enjoyable but nothing special. A little time later, I saw the whole film. It fared much better. Now it’s one of my favorites of not only Robin Williams but of Nathan Lane. It’s funny, yes, but that’s not why I like it so much or why it gives me warm fuzzies when I think about it. The Birdcage is great because it is so wonderfully positive about family and what it is to be one. Families come in all shapes and sizes. It helps that the family in this movie doesn’t feel artificial.

The film sends me Frank Capra like vibes. It’s packed to the brim with mayhem, shenanigans, and character moments (comedic and dramatic). It also has a touching conclusion that wraps everything up in a feel good bow. Ending with a drag rendition of “We are Family” may be sappy, but I don’t care. I feel so happy and positive by that point, it doesn’t matter.

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