Last week, I watched the hilarious “The Bird Cage” for the umpteenth time. Based on the play, “La Cage Aux Folles,” it’s a screwball comedy of gay characters trying to pass as straight for a dinner meeting with an Ohio Senator who finds Billy Graham too liberal and is a Vice –President of the Coalition for Moral Order.
Senator Keeley (Gene Hackman), his wife Louise (Diane Wiest) and daughter Barbara (Calista Flockhart) come to South Beach, Miami, Florida to divert the public at home from the news that another Ohio senator died in bed with an underage prostitute. Keely believes that maybe meeting his new in-laws in Florida will appease his right wing constituents by promoting family values. Little does he and his wife know that the in-laws Robin Williams(Armand Goldman) and Nathan Lane(Albert) are gay, live over and operate a popular drag nightclub in S. Miami Beach and have a Guatemalan shoeless housekeeper (Agador Spartacus) (Hank Azaria) who is flamboyantly gay. (My son finds the gay characters stereotypical and won’t watch the movie. They are stereotypical, but their orientation advances the plot ).
For this meeting, the straight son, Val (Dan Futterman), is engaged to Barbara Keely. He is the son of Armand and Katherine Archer (Christine Baranski), now divorced, and wants his father to rid himself of all gay ambience in his home, including Armand’s partner Albert. The house, within a day, goes from splashy with male fertility figures to monastic, complete with crucifix and austere furniture.
At this request, Armand and his lover of twenty years, the more dramatic and insecure of the two, Albert, are insulted. Not only do they have to hide their belongings, but also their identity. Williams does not ad-lib as much in this movie and is restrained, but nevertheless has the most poignant line in the whole movie that always brings a tear to my eye: “Yes, I wear foundation. Yes, I live with a man. I’m a middle-aged fag. But I know who I am, Val. It took me twenty years to get here, and I’m not gonna’ let some idiot senator destroy that. F—k the senator, I don’t give a damn what he thinks.”
Albert wants to pretend he’s Val’s uncle, Uncle Al, but Armand quips: “What’s the point? You’d be Val’s gay Uncle Al.” Of course, Armand and Albert acquiesce and pretend to be straight to please Val. Even Agador puts clothes and shoes on for a change and asquerades as a cook in the house.
The Plot Thickens
Mayhem ensues as in Some Like It Hot when the identities that are trying to be under wraps are exposed. While the year of the movie is 1996 when President Clinton banned gays in the military and Albert, who is trying to pass himself off as Val’s mother, “the old-fashioned girl from Corners Grove” says to his dinner guests: “You know, I used to feel that way too until I found out that Alexander the Great was a fag. Talk about gays in the military!” Typical clever funny line brought to you by Mike Nicholas and Elaine May.
Issues Still Hot Today
While the comment about gays in the military may seem dated, the fact that some straight children are still embarrassed and teased about having gay parents still holds true today. Armand even refers to the fact that he told Val’s kindergarten teacher that he had a different profession so Val wouldn’t be teased.
Like any parent, Armand and Albert are concerned that Val is getting married too young, at age 20.
Barbara knows her Republican parents so well and like Republicans under the age of 30, approves of same-sex marriage. (The latest Pew Research Council poll, May 31, 2014, showed that 61% of Republicans under age 30 favored gay marriage while only 22% of Republicans over the age of 65, approved. ) So, Barbara Keeley who “gets it” and knows her audience (parents) says to her parents that the Coldeman’s (pronounced so not Jewish) South Beach residence is about 2 minutes from Fisher Island where Jeb Bush lives.” Senator Keeley, while portrayed a bit too right-wing is on target with his party’s stance. Says Armand: “Albert, these people are right-wing conservatives. They don’t care if you’re a pig, they just care if you’re a fag.”
Sad, but true. While the one-liners are great and the charade raucous, there is an undercurrent of truth that gay people are masking themselves, hiding their true sexual orientation to try to please the moral majority, who are in effect, trying to appear self-righteous.
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.