Film: The Birdcage

Albert: Don't use that tone to me.
Armand: What tone?
Albert: That sarcastic, contemptuous tone that means "you know everything because you're a man and I know nothing because I'm a woman".
Armand: You're not a woman.
Albert: Oh, you bastard!

The Birdcage is a 1996 comedy film directed by Mike Nichols, and stars Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart, Hank Azaria and Christine Baranski. The script was written by Elaine May, and it is a remake of the 1978 French film, La Cage aux Folles, which was created by Jean Poiret and Francis Veber, and starred Michel Serrault and Ugo Tognazzi.

Val Goldman (Dan Futterman) and Barbara Keeley (Calista Flockhart) are engaged to be married, and have decided to have their families meet. Barbara herself comes from a traditional Christian family, its patriarch Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman) is a Moral Guardian politician running for re-election. When one of Keeley's close political friends dies in the bed of an underage, black prostitute, Mrs. Keeley (Dianne Wiest) suggests they visit the fiancé's family to discuss wedding plans and escape the scandal; acting as an escape from the press, and a "traditional, wholesome" all-American marriage could save his career.

Unbeknownst to Barbara's parents, however, is that Val's family is a Jewish, gay couple that owns a South Beach drag club called The Birdcage. Not only does Val's father Armand Goldman (Robin Williams) live above and run the club, but his partner Albert (Nathan Lane) is the show's star drag queen "Starina". With the Keeleys already driving down, the Goldmans have to quickly pile together a story and drastically redecorate, recreating themselves as the "Coldman" family and Camp Gay Albert as an Uncle in the hope the can get past Heteronormative Crusader Keeley.

There's no way this could possibly go wrong...

The Birdcage provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Accidental Innuendo: invoked When trying to explain Agador's Guatemalan soup with eggs in it, Armand notes they value poultry like currency:
    Armand: A woman is said to be worth her weight in hens, and a man's wealth is measured by the size of his cock. (realization)
  • Bi the Way: Back in the day, a young Armand decided to "try it once with a woman" and sleep with Katherine, resulting in Val. Though technically he tried it twice (on the same night).
  • Book Ends: "The Goldman Girls" performing Sister Sledge's "We Are Family."
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: When trying to remember all of their lies:
    Armand: Agador?
    Val: Sparticus!
    Armand: ...Agador Sparticus? (beat) He insists on being called his full name.
  • Camp Gay: Every gay who isn't Armand. Some of the non-performing crew of the club can be safely presumed to be gay, and are even less camp than Armand.
  • Character Name Alias: Agador the housekeeper introduces himself as Spartacus. After some confusion Armand settles on "Agador Spartacus".
  • Comically Missing the Point / I Take Offense to That Last One: Upon learning the truth about Val's family, Senator Keeley's response? "You can't be. You can't be Jewish!"
  • Corpsing: In the scene where Val, Armand and Agador are in the kitchen discussing what to do with no entree prepared, Robin Williams accidentally slipped, but was able to hold back laughing to finish the take.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the main characters make snarky comments here and there.
  • Different for Girls: Partly subverted.
  • Digital Bikini: One television edit put shorts on Hank Azaria's character, in a scene where he is otherwise wearing a thong.
  • Disguised in Drag: The Keeleys escape the paparazzi by dressing in drag and leaving through the front door of The Birdcage.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: Agador. He claims they "make [him] fall down." And they do, at least once.
  • Drag Queen:
    • Albert a.k.a. "Starina", The Goldman Girls as well as many other employees and patrons of the club.
    • Plus the whole Keeley family at the end. (Yes, the wife, daughter, and Senator!)
  • Drama Queen: Albert. Bonus points since he's a literal queen!
  • Enhance Button: Double Subverted. When examining the recordings outside Keeley's house, the news team first has to examine the very pixel-y background to identify what's going on... only to then zoom in and get perfectly captured audio from several feet away and under a reporters voice.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Senator Keeley attempts to avoid the press by climbing out a window by ladder; half way down, he turns and finally notices the dozen reporters waiting for him.
  • Fawlty Towers Plot: The movie fits this to a T. All it takes is Barbara lying about her new in-laws to get the ball rolling. And even thought they can't keep up a consistent lie, with contradictions popping up at every possible moment, they manage to keep going on and on.
  • Fictional Political Party: The "Coalition for Moral Order" Party which, unsurprisingly, is a radical conservative party primarily focused on traditional families.
  • Flying Under the Gaydar: Albert and Armand try to do this to fool their son's future-in-laws, which of course goes spectacularly awry.
  • Foreign Remake: An American remake of the French/Italian film adaptation of La Cage aux Folles or at the very least, the original French stage play of the same name.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: "A woman is said to be worth her weight in hens, and a man's wealth is measured by the size of his cock." Kind of to be expected, since Robin Williams gave the trope its name. It's lampshaded as Armand immediately gets a rather subdued Oh, Crap look on his face as he realizes how it could be taken, and quickly excuses himself.
  • Good Ol' Boy: Senator Keeley
  • Happily Married: Albert and Armand (essentially).
    Val: I'm the only guy in my fraternity who doesn't come from a broken home!
  • Harpo Does Something Funny: Due to the nature of the story, the director made Nathan Lane and Robin Williams promise to do one take exactly as scripted before they could go wild in retakes. This is bound to happen.
  • Has Two Daddies: Val who, by the night's end, admits Albert is his real "mother" while Katherine is the woman who gave birth to him. On top of that, Armand reintroduces Albert as his wife to the Keeleys.
  • Have I Mentioned I am Gay?: At least, the Goldmans' home décor certainly does, what with statues of nude men, erectile figurines, homoerotic china and a portrait of a bald man in a dress. Not to mention Armand's phallic necklace and Albert referring to himself as a woman.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The paparazzi don't recognize the Keeleys when they walk right past them in full drag with only minor facial make-up on. One cameraman suspects, but quickly shakes his head in a clear "No way!"
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Agador, while dressed in cut-off shorts and a lacy, see-through, midriff-baring shirt, complains that a butler's uniform would make him "look like a fag".
    • One of the reporters talks about the media blitz around the senator's home in a condemning tone... while he is, of course, taking part in it.
    • The senator executes a sudden exit on the interstate, trying to make sure he's not being followed. The tabloid reporter trailing him immediately executes an even more dangerous sudden exit so he doesn't lose him, before announcing "This guy is a fucking maniac!"
  • I Need a Freaking Drink:
    • After Armand learns Val is getting married, he downs an entire glass of white wine, then goes to get even more.
    • And Senator Keeley needs his freaking candy.
    • As the dinner progresses, Armand (and later Val) sneaks into the kitchen to start drinking wine directly from the bottle.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: When Albert is having his breakdown in the intro:
    Albert: Whatever I am, [Armand] made me! I was adorable once, young and full of hope. Now, look at me. (upset) I'm this short, fat, insecure, middle aged thing!
    Armand: I made you short?
    Albert: (shrieks)
  • Jewish Mother: Albert, to his stepson Val.
  • Large Ham / Ham-to-Ham Combat: Nathan Lane and Robin Williams compete to see who can eat more scenery.
  • Leno Device: Leno makes a quick joke about Senator Jackson in a monologue on the Keeleys' television.
  • Lethal Chef: Agador is not a chef but must pretend to be one. His concoction could be only called "Sweet and Sour Peasant soup" if you define "soup" as "some barely edible liquid you eat in a bowl". No-one was interested in seconds. A deleted scene shows that Katherine actually loved the stuff, instantly making her Agador's favorite person in the world.
  • Missing Mom: Katherine gave birth to Val and then left Armand to raise him. While not quite as emotionally involved in Val, she's certainly happy to know he's doing well (and proud he sticks up for his "real mom," Albert, in front of the Keeleys).
  • Moral Guardians: Senator Keeley co-created the "Coalition for Moral Order". The group is the reason they suddenly visit Val's family, as his co-founder dies in the bed of an underage, black prostitute.
  • The Mountains of Illinois: There are mountains visible outside Katherine's office window. Her office is in Florida.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Dan Futterman as Val, and Hank Azaria.
  • No, You: Albert, posing as Val's mother, makes a veeerrrrry subtle quip to Senator Keeley's views on homosexuals.
    Senator Keeley: You know, I think homosexuality is one of the things that's weakening this country.
    Albert: Really? Well that's what I thought until I found out that Alexander the Great was a fag; talk about gays in the military.
  • Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Averted. Okay, so Armand is exactly fifty years old, but it's close enough.
  • Out with a Bang: Senator Jackson died while having sex with a prostitute.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Albert appears as Mrs. Coleman in drag, leaving Armand, Val and Barbara in shock; Senator Keeley and his wife, however, completely fail to see it.
  • Placebo Effect: Albert's powerful, anti-anxiety medication he gets from Agador:
    Armand: What are you giving him? Drugs? What the hell are "Pirin" tablets?!
    Agador: It's aspirin with the "a" and the "s" scraped off.
    Armand: (beat) My God, what a brilliant idea.
  • Prayer Is a Last Resort: After everything else is set up and just before the Keeleys arrive, Armand looks up at the crucifix hanging in his home and asks for the night to go well. Before this, Armand didn't show any religious attitudes and is in fact Jewish.
    Armand: I'm not religious and I'm Jewish, but if things go well tonight, I'd really appreciate it.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Armand delivers a Type-4 one to Val when his son insists they not only hide who they are, but pretend to be a "normal" family:
    Armand: Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. Yes, I'm a middle-aged fag, but I know who I am, Val. It took me 20 years to get here. I won't let some idiot senator destroy that. Fuck the senator, I don't give a damn what he thinks.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Val's parents are a liberal, gay, Jewish couple that run a drag club in South Beach, Florida, whereas Barbara's parents are a traditional, Conservative, Christian couple and part of a "traditional" political party. Naturally, Hilarity Ensues.
  • The Reveal: The film's first scene plays up the handsome young man as Armand's secret lover when he's actually his son.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Albert does this throughout the film.
  • Scream Discretion Shot
  • Straight Gay: Armand somewhat. He can play straight at the very least. Albert, however, is so camp that he can't even do that.
  • Straw Character:
    • It's both subtly and not-so-subtly implied that the conservatives are disgusted not only by gays, but by Jews and black people. Oh, and Guatemalans. For what it's worth, though, all three are at least presented as fundamentally good and even kind people, even when they're saying terribly racist things. That said, the Keeleys have obviously accepted Armand and Albert because Val and Barbara get married with both their families present and happy. So, the Keeleys are able to put aside prejudices and get over it when confronted.
    • Strawman Political: Taken to the extreme when, disguised as Armand's wife, Albert spouts God-awful, exaggerated right-wing stereotypes (like killing women wanting abortions as the fetus will die anyway) — and Keeley wholeheartedly agrees and joins in.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders: Senator Keeley actually made a pretty good-looking woman!
  • Twofer Token Minority: Armand and Albert are gay and Jewish!
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: "The Birdcage", the club Armand and Albert own.