Grant Mitchell

Whimsical 1996 Mike Nichols film, “The Birdcage,” brings a lively story to screen with inspired performances from Robin Williams, Nathan Lane and Gene Hackman. 

The premise of the film alone should make you giggle. 

Here it goes; Robin Williams, played by Armand Goldman, and Nathan Lane, played by Albert Goldman, are life partners and owners of Miami’s premier drag club The Birdcage. Their son Val Goldman is getting married. But there’s a catch.

Val’s fiancé has a very conservative family. The father of the bride, Hackman, is a staunchly conservative republican congressman. Meaning he is uncomfortable with “homosexuals” and says some pretty dated things regarding people of other ethnicities and races. And Hackman is coming down to Miami to meet the potential in-laws while simultaneously attempting to elude the press after a colleague is caught up in a scandal. 

The film continues on in a very farcical manor as the quite proudly gay Goldman couple attempt to act straight, devoutly Christian and “masculine” so to cater to the identities their son’s fiancé made up to make her parents comfortable with the family she is marrying into.

As you can probably guess, a number of things fall through in the plan, and Nathan Lane decides to wear his usual drag attire to the dinner and fill in as Val’s mother. Gene Hackman and his wife completely fall for it and are enchanted with Nathan Lane. 

Eventually Nathan Lane is revealed to be a man, and he is devastated. Concerned that his son, his husband and the potential new additions to the family are ashamed of him. Instead, all of the prevalent players in this story go to Nathan Lane and apologize to him for making feel like less than himself. Val, realizing his error in agreeing to go with his fiancé’s plan, apologizes and tells his parents he loves them, and he has never wanted them to be anything other than who they are.

It ends with the clan escaping from the media, who get tipped off the congressman is held up at a drag club, and Val marries the woman he loves in a traditional Jewish ceremony while the fathers he loves so much look on.

Now, the poignant thing about this film to me is the setting in Miami. A city with a huge variety in cultures, lifestyles and people. The outsiders in this film are not the gay Jewish couple who own a drag club, rather, the family stuck in white bread Americana are the outsiders. 

To me, that’s symbolic of how the world is. We are all different, we all look different, speak differently, believe in different things and love differently. That doesn’t mean any one of us is less than, rather, it means we are all unique creatures trying to make lives for ourselves in this vast world. Those who believe in a status quo and standard way of living are the wrong ones, those who believe we should all be one homogenous swath of people so to not offend or infringe on classic “values” are those who need to see the light and change.

What makes this life beautiful is all the differences out there. We must embrace ourselves and our interests as well as be open to those of people around us. That’s how we should live, because at the end of the day we’re all trying to reach the same destination. A place of happiness and a sense of having lived a life fulfilled.

That is what “The Birdcage” is about to me. The embracing of our differences and loving one another not in spite of them, but because of them. 

Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at gmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

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