In less assured hands, this could have wound up as a disaster, but director Edouard Molinaro was skillfully able to film the long-running play and wring every drop of humor from it.
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Though its politics are still quite progressive, La Cage aux Folles is ultimately a work of classicism, crafted with precision and efficiently paced.
Later remade as The Bird Cage, this first adaptation of Jean Poiret’s play is as moving as it is hilarious in its depiction of moral hypocrisy and familial love.
It’s funny in a coarse, obvious way, and it probably would have been a laugh riot had director Edouard Molinaro possessed even an elementary sense of timing. Still, it’s not very honorable: this is one of those sitcoms, like The Jeffersons, that “explain” a minority to middle-class audiences by making their members cute, cuddly, and harmlessly eccentric.
The fabulous 1970s fashions don’t hold up too well, but what still resonates is the movie’s empathetic attention to what it’s like if your sexual identity doesn’t neatly fit into traditional norms.
Without challenging viewers’ notions of how gay men behave, the film shamed its homophobic characters while showing a loving family headed by longtime same-sex partners who are embraced by their community—boas, makeup, and all. Albin and Renato were onto something. It was the rest of the world’s job to catch up.
Like many of the best farces, from The Importance of Being Earnest to Cactus Flower, it draws its humor from characters pretending to be something they’re not.
Despite delicate performances, the lead characters never escape stereotype, and the relationship between them, which should be the emotional heart of the movie, never becomes remotely convincing even on an I Love Lucy level.
This is basically the first sitcom in drag, and the comic turns in the plot are achieved with such clockwork timing that sometimes we're laughing at what's funny and sometimes we're just laughing at the movie's sheer comic invention. This is a great time at the movies.
La Cage aux Folles is naughty in the way of comedies that pretend to be sophisticated but actually serve to reinforce the most popular conventions and most witless stereotypes.