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MOVIE REVIEW – The Birdcage

Director: Mike Nichols

Rating: ***

This joyous, colorful farce is a treat for armchair travelers. Filmed on bustling Ocean Drive in Miami's art deco South Beach area, it's a 1996 American remake of the 1978 French comedy, La Cage aux Folles. The sets, the costumes and the acting are a superb trip into the world of cross-dressers and gays. While the plot serves as a good foundation for hilarity, the movie is all about character.

Seeing the original film in French, however, ruined The Birdcage for me, because La Cage was far superior. Nevertheless, the antics of the Americans still had me giggling in my armchair. Robin Williams is subdued as the world-weary Armand Goldman, the owner-operator of a drag revue on Ocean Drive. Goldman carries all the responsibility of the hugely successful Birdcage on his shoulders, doing the "one-minute-manager" every evening ("Free coffee for the Kennedys," he decides in an opening scene.). His other full-time job is calming down his hysterical partner, Albert Goldman (Nathan Lane), aka Starina, the star of the drag show. The Goldmans' Latin maid, Agador (Hank Azaria), helps by tranquilizing Albert with Pirin, which he describes as "just aspirin, with the 'as' scraped off".

A family crisis sets several uproarious scenarios into play: Armand's son, 20-year-old Val (Dan Futterman), the product of his one-night stand with a woman (Val Baranski), has decided to marry an 18-year-old (Calista Flockhart). His fiancée's parents are conservative senator Keeley (Gene Hackman) and his doting wife (Dianne Wiest). Keeley leads the Coalition for Moral Order and thinks that gays are destroying the human race. This moralistic couple and their mousy daughter are coming to dinner at the Goldmans' apartment (above the club) that is decorated lavishly with penis art. To please his son, Goldman has to play it straight for this first meeting, and Albert is to be kept out of the way. Val's mother is persuaded to play her part in the hetero lie.

Of course, everything goes wrong. While Val had the apartment stripped down to a monastic level, Agador forgot to get rid of the china, which features naked men pursuing each other. Agador also can't cook, walk in shoes or make intelligent conversation – and gives a side-splitting performance, complete with Latin lisp. Val's mother is delayed in traffic on her way to dinner, so Albert poses as her and impresses the senator. Keeley has difficulty believing Albert is a man even after his wig comes off.

The media are hot on the senator's trail, because he'd been avoiding them since one of his colleagues had died in bed with an underage hooker. The National Enquirer had chased Keeley all the way to South Beach from his home up north, wanting to catch him in something scandalous. And the reporters are waiting outside the Goldmans' door as the Keeleys open it to leave. Albert saves them from the press by disguising them in drag and having them dance their way through the crowd in the club to make their getaway in Val's mother's car.

While the material is not new, the movie provides an entertaining virtual trip to a hopping tourist spot. For more information about Miami's South Beach, check out Victoria Brooks' article, Miami Nice.