Armand (Robin Williams) runs a drag club in Florida, where he lives with his other half Albert (Nathan Lane). When their son, Val (Dan Futterman), announces his engagement the couple are thrilled, until they discover his fiancée’s father is a homophobic Republican senator (Gene Hackman).
Occasionally funny, this isn’t enough to make up for The Birdcage‘s major failings in other areas. The set-up is along similar lines to Meet the Fockers, as the wacky parents of a boring couple meet for the first time, but with the addition of a hair-brained scheme to pass Val’s family off as heterosexual that obviously won’t work . The plan they concoct is so badly thought through, in all its incarnations, that there isn’t a single moment where it can possibly succeed. Even if they convinced the in-laws for an evening they’re still going to have to tell them the truth at some point before the wedding, when they will also have to admit to an elaborate web of lies. It’s about as watertight as a pair of man sized fish nets, particularly when they live above a nightclub in the most stereotypically camp location ever constructed on screen.
When it opens it appears to have the potential to be something more than the farcical comedy it ultimately descends to. Most of the characters are well written and played, and it doesn’t appear to lurch for every cheap laugh. But as ultra-camp Albert dons a wig and dress to pretend to be Val’s mother this promise is squandered. Maybe if he looked at all like a woman it might work, but he doesn’t so it doesn’t.
There are some very good characters in the film. Robin Williams is excellent, as is Hank Azaria as their housekeeper Agador, and Gene Hackman does his usual grumpy old man thing. But Albert is such an over-the-top drama queen that it’s impossible to believe he’s a functioning adult. There’s camp like, say, the queens in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but Albert goes beyond this to a point where it’s impossible to believe him as a character or find him funny.
Interestingly it has the only John Major reference I’ve seen in a film, but all the John Major references in the world can’t make up for the drab plot, lacklustre laughs and offensively bad ending.