Throughout his illustrious and varied career, Mike Nichols directed a catalogue of films considered to be some of the most iconic of the past fifty years. From The Graduate to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? his diverse body of work represents a series of cinematic milestones and has earned Nichols the status of a truly legendary director. Yet there is one gem that has fallen into the shadows of Nichols’ repertoire; that is the 1996 film The Birdcage.
A remake of the 1978 Le Cage aux Folles (based on the 1973 play of the same name by Jean Poiret) the film is set largely in the confines of ‘The Birdcage’ drag club in South Beach. Delving into the lives of loving couple Arman (the drag club owner played by Robin Williams) and Albert (the clubs star act, ‘Starina’, portrayed by Nathan Lane) the film explores what happens when their twenty year old son Val decides to marry the daughter of homophobic, racist and sexist politician Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman). When a political scandal threatens to end Senator Keeley’s career, his wife Barbra (Dianne Wiest) suggests that they make their way to South Beach to meet the family of their future son-in-law. However, thanks to a good dash of panic and deceit things quickly become complicated and Arman and Albert find themselves having to put on an elaborate display of conservatism in order to appease their new in-laws.
With both comedic and tragic implications this film oozes appeal from start to finish. It is political and socially poignant, and at all times highly relatable. Both Robin Williams and Nathan Lane embrace their roles with such sympathy that they light up the screen from scene one, effortlessly moving from the hysterical to the heart breaking throughout.
This is a film which is fabulously funny and witty and still maintains its deeper message of the importance of truth and acceptance. The moral is very much influenced by the proverb ‘To thine own self be true’ and therefore it is steeped in social importance.
Boasting a cast of Hollywood giants, a script to make you cry laughing and a story which explores the huge spectrum of life and love, this is a film for everyone’s bucket lists.
The Birdcage (1996), directed by Mike Nichols, is distributed by United Artists, certificate 15.