Thursday, November 24, 2022

Recasting 1996 (supporting): "The Birdcage"

For 1996, I shamelessly poach my third and I promise final Dianne Wiest role. In reality, this and my previous recasting project aren't really a suggestion that the originators for any given role were wrong for the role or miscast. So I'm not really imagining or wishing that I could've snatched these roles from other ladies (I leave that for certain selections in my reimagined filmography). But I know that we all have our favorites, and that it's easy and natural for us to get a little possessive over certain movies or parts. I'm that way with certain films even when I'm considering them for a project like this (Steel Magnolias, Sense & Sensibility for example). And yet I still feel a need to add a little disclaimer if/when I seem to be targeting roles by certain actresses repeatedly (see Helen Mirren in my lead recasting project). Consider it a testament to how wonderful these respective actors are that I'd love to see what Meryl could do with the same character!

Moving on. Mike Nichols's comedy The Birdcage is another of one of the first films in my recasting projects that I remember actually seeing in the theater (I think 1995's Copycat was the first I had mentioned). Looking back, I'm a little surprised that I had gone. It seems like a no-brainer that a closeted gay kid in a small farm town would want to go to a film as flamboyant and colorful as The Birdcage, and maybe that's how I actually felt at the time. But when I look back, I feel I would've been a bit cagey (pardon the pun) about disclosing to anyone that this was in fact the movie a neighbor friend and I were planning to see. When I rewatch the film now, I can't help but picture an uncle of mine who lived with his partner in Las Vegas for many years and ran a bar. I can only imagine the shenanigans that went on in a big city known for its entertainment industry, much like the way the main characters live in this movie. 

Robin Williams plays Armand Goldman, an owner of a drag club in Miami, whose partner Albert (Nathan Lane) happens to be the club's headliner. Armand's son from a one-night stand twenty years prior, Val (Dan Futterman), is planning to marry the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of a conservative senator from Ohio (portrayed by Gene Hackman), and an embarrassingly funny meeting between all the "parents" takes place at Armand and Albert's "straightified" apartment. 

Wiest of course plays Louise Keeley, Senator Keeley's buttoned-up wife. One thing I like about this role is that it's so different from the previous couple of roles I've selected in this project. Louise is a prim woman who's mostly in the background of her husband's ambition, dressed like a Pilgrim and more interested in whether her daughter's potential in-laws are of the right breeding than whether her daughter will actually be happy. But she's not a monster. And she's actually more of a thinker than her narrow-minded husband is. What's wild is how the pair's naivete about how others live their lives leaves them open to more easily being bamboozled by such ridiculous cover-ups of the reality their hosts are trying to hide. 

The parody of the closed-minded right-wingers sadly rings true even more clearly today. The comedy is undeniable here, and borders on farce with how far-fetched the situation is. I have a strong feeling that Meryl might have played Louise (probably not completely unlike Wiest does), as a woman who may actually have more moderate or even liberal views, but is married to someone who trumpets his own in the opposite direction so much that she sort of gets lost in playing the part of political wife, which we know likely stifles a lot of people's natural instincts, choices and behaviors. 

It's interesting that when my husband and I watched this movie during the pandemic, we were a bit distracted by how if the movie had come out today, we'd probably consider the son, Val, the villain. It's one thing to ask your parents to be on their best behavior when you bring someone home for them to meet. It's another to ask them to completely deny who they are and whom they love. Yes, the stakes are quite high in this scenario, but if Val were to actually go through with marrying Barbara, it's not like the families wouldn't have to meet again. And again, and again. Would this charade be endless? When would Armand and Albert get to be themselves when the Keeleys have been afforded the opportunity from the start? It made us a little peeved. But yes, we've come a long way, and The Birdcage likely did way more good than bad for opening up people's minds to families that don't all look the same. 

The Birdcage was an enormous box office success. Against its budget of $31 million, it grossed $185 million. It also did well with critics, with much of the praise heaped on Nathan Lane's hilarious performance. He was nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actor, respectively, and the entire cast won the SAG Ensemble Award. Wiest did score a win in Supporting Actress from the American Comedy Awards, back when they were still a thing and a lot of people still watched them. 


  1. I knew you would choose this Jeff! Alas it was also my top pick as well. I remember first seeing this on TV in the early 2000s with my mum. I must confess it was mainly because I was a big Ally McBeal fan and wanted to see Calista Flockhart! Great example of a proper ensemble working together to make a funny and thoughtful movie.

    I also agree about the son's motivations and attitude, but at the time I just took it for what it was!

    I will now opt for the role of "Queen Gertrude" in Kenneth Branagh's epic version of "Hamlet", as originally played by Julie Christie. It would be fascinating to watch Meryl try Shakespeare onscreen, it being about 18 years since she did "Measure For Measure" on stage. I must admit the film is not to everyone's taste and could be seen as too long, but it really is an interesting choice. Plus I would love to have seen Meryl's take on such a complex character.

    I also considered The First Wives Club, I recently rewstched it and it holds up.

  2. Oh gosh, I think I watched Hamlet in college when it was required for a theater class, but haven't since! And would you believe that I've NEVER seen First Wives Club???? I need to turn in my gay card.

    1. You must let us know what you think once you finally get around to seeing it, I enjoyed my rewatch! :)