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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. It is a remake of the 1978 film La Cage aux Folles by Jean Poiret and Francis Veber, starring 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. Val's father, Armand Goldman (Robin Williams), owns The Birdcage, a South Beach gay club. His lover is Albert (Nathan Lane), who appears regularly as "Starina", the show's star drag queen. Barbara's father, however, is ultraconservative Republican Ohio Senator Kevin Keeley (Hackman), co-founder of the right-wing "Coalition for Moral Order" and up for re-election this year.

Fearing their reaction if they learn the truth about Val's parents, Barbara tells her parents that Armand is a cultural attaché to Greece, that Albert is both a woman and a housewife, and that they divide their time between Greece and Florida; she also changes the family's last name from Goldman to Coleman to hide their Jewish background.

At this point, Kevin receives a phone call: Senator Jackson, Kevin's colleague and co-founder of the Coalition for Moral Order, has been found dead in the bed of an under-age black prostitute; the event receives a large amount of coverage in the media. Louise Keeley (Dianne Wiest) then proposes a visit to meet their new in-laws as diversion to save Kevin's political career: It will give them an excuse to get out of town, and Barbara's marriage into a "traditional, wholesome" all-American family will give the senator excellent PR material.

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

The Birdcage provides examples of the following tropes:

  • 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."
  • 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, even the wife and daughter!)
  • Drama Queen: Albert. Bonus points since he's a literal queen!
  • 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, an American film adaptation of the original French stage play.
  • 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 Goldman's home decor 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 chain and Albert referring to himself as a woman.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: The paparazzi don't recognize the Keeleys when they walk right passed them in full drag with only minor facial make-up on.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Agador, while dressed in cutoff 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 "Pirin tablets" — he seems to think they're some kind of powerful anti-anxiety medication; they are in fact Aspirin with the first two letters scraped off.
  • 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."
  • 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 twice.
    • Only twice?
  • 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.
  • Strawman Political: 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. Whether someone can be good and super-prejudiced at the same time is, of course, a different debate, but as TV bigots go, they've at least got shades and nuance to them. Also, by the end, 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.
    • Senator Jackson however, is/was not only a bigot, but a hypocrite as well.
  • Stupid Sexy Flanders: Senator Keeley actually made a pretty good-looking woman!
  • Technology Marches On: A major part of the plot relies on the fact that this movie was made when car phones could make but not receive calls. A good part of the drama could have been... well... delayed if Katherine had a cell phone.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Armand and Albert are gay and Jewish!
  • Where Everybody Knows Your Flame: "The Birdcage", the club Armand and Albert own.

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The Big ParadeCreator/Metro-Goldwyn-MayerBlowup
Exposed ExtraterrestrialsImageSource/Live-Action FilmsCamp Gay
Bio-DomeFilms of the 1990sBlack Sheep

alternative title(s): The Birdcage
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