Well I have to say I expected this film to be dire. Not just bad but stinking. A french "classic" remade with everyone's favourite non-offensive american hyperactive "actor", Robin Williams?! No! Now to be fair I wasn't keen on the original french version, La Cage aux Folles. I thought it was hammy and the screaming-queen Albert almost totally unwatchable. Actually quick note here - I really can't cope with Albert being called a "transvestite" he isn't really. Though he is....hmm...I think that's an issue with the writer of the original though.....
Anyway a quick summary of the plot,..........Armand is a very devoted (he'd have to be in either version given Albert as a partner) 20-year partner of Albert, a drag artiste (and in that kind of odd no-man's land that lies between being gay and wanting, in part at least, to be the other sex.) who performs at their notorious club, "The Birdcage", located beneath their flat. Anyway they have a son, Val (played with utter banality), provided by Armand's brief period of sexual experimentation (with a woman - played fabulously (as usual) by Cristine Barinski) who, at the great age of 20, has fallen in love and wants to get married. Interesting to note that his fiancee is supposedly 18 and is played by Calista Flockhard (A.K.A. Alley Macbeal to a great number of people, who must be pushing 30-something at the least though makes a surprisingly convincing 18 yr old..odd). Anyway his fiancee's parents are extremely conservative and the father is a politician. In an act of absolute pure selfishness (in both the orginal film and this remake having any sympathy at all is impossible, that would probably explain the fundamental flaw of the whole plot - in either film - for me) by Val, when the in-laws invite themselves to dinner a great effort must be made to cover up the real home and gay habits of Armand and Albert (with hilarious consequences?). "Am I *REALLY* obvious?" probably being the most over-used and unfunny phrase in the film.
As a concept it's embarrassing. Gay people masking their lifestyle because their kids can't cope. Pathetic! And quite why they actually remade this I don't know! However all of that said it is very funny at times. Robin Williams is a lot less manic than usual doing a sensitive turn instead and showing Nathan Lane's performance up a little. I have to say I love Nathan Lane but Albert is the most thinly drawn character I've seen on film (again in both versions) so he has VERY little to work with. Besides which the painful-to-watch screams and high camp are undoubtedly overdone to try and keep a straight audience laughing at - rather than with - the characters. It is a fairly "sympathetic" movie though. Armand and Albert have by far the most convincing and fulfilling relationship of the picture. Not that that's saying much.
What this had that the French original does not are a few basics...the casting of the supporting cast is not just better, it's actually good. The language barrier that can (but rarely does) ruin films is gone for those of us not fluent in French. The timing - which wrecked the original in my opinion - is a little better. Most importantly the culture in which the film is produced is different; the change in attitute since the original was made is vast; the french macho insecuritire are replaced by less cringe-making American '90's alternatives, though gone is that cruder kind of humour which provided some genuine belly-laughs in the French version - the phallic decorations that apparently would tell the dull conservatives instantly that the occupents are gay are amazingly tame here (though Hank Azaria shines as the outrageous house-boy he actually manages to make work here, implausible as the character should be and was in the French version)
And it is a MAINSTREAM GAY film..... ....realistically this is *still* a total paradox in behind-the-times Hollywood......I hate to *have* to say it but ALL exposure has *some* positive effect - and here the gay characters are actually far less weird and messed up than the straight ones. Here we're not scary and we're not killers and we don't die - oh and we have much longer, healthier relationships (this is news?!)......... Progress of a sort....could we now have some ORIGINAL gay movies now please? And cut down on dresses and drag queens, PLEASE!
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