Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Original: La Cage aux Folles

Hey folks welcome back to The Original and to be honest; the first time I saw this was an French film shot in Italy, my brain went to Giallo murders, post-apocalyptia and zombies but that is because I have reviewed a lot of crappy movies. Instead director/writer Edouard Molinaro (Back to the Wall, The Road to Shame, A Mistress for the Summer, A Touch of Treason, Agent 38-24-36, Male Hunt, To Commit a Murder and Beaumarchais the Scoundrel) has more of a tounge-in-cheek sense of humor even in his serious works. So before Robin Williams and Nathan Lane took this particular film in hand, came its predecessor. This is La Cage aux Folles.

No close-ups, darling. My pores are huge.

Renato Baldi (Ugo Tognazzi of Dino Risi, La Grande Bouffe, My Friends, Traffic Jam, Sunday Lovers, Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man and All My Friends Part 2) holds his cabernet/drag club shows in St. Tropez along with his partner in every sense of the word Albin(Michel Serrault of Diabolique, How Do You Like My Sister?, How Not to Rob a Department Store, The Double Bed, The Boss of Champignol, Order of the Daisy, Call Me Mathilde and Have Mercy on Us All)'s world comes to a crashing halt when the lad they have raised i.e.their son Laurent (Remi Laurent of Let's Get Those English Girls, La Cage aux Folles, Cinema 16, All Stars, Les Plouffe, La cassure and Bankers Also Have Souls) tells them he is engaged to be married. Renato is taken back, aghast at his 20 year old son's plans of nuptials but he too understands like any parent what it is like to be in love. Surprisingly he takes the news fairly well. I almost expected a champagne bottle to crash out of his hands. Perfect timing for a sight gag but I guess it was not meant to be.

The Softer Side of Ron Jeremy.

The young lady of Laurent's dreams Andrea (Luisa Maneri of The Private Lesson, The Last Round, La settima donna, La Cage aux Folles, Body Count, They Call Me Renegade, Il gatto nero, Casablanca Express, The Wicked and Gli asssassini vanno in coppia) fairs far less than her boy as her moral and upstanding political father Simon (Michel Galabru of The Pawn, La Cage aux Folles, Heart to Heart, The Troops & Aliens, Cop or Hood, It All Depends on Girls, The Miser, I'm Photogenic and The Under-Gifted) is ready her the riot act on how she is just a child, she should have never gone to Paris and so on. With an awkward phone call with Laurent and Renato, Andrea tries her best to avoid the subject, the white elephant in the room...something to the tune of oh right, Laurent's parents are gay and run a drag show. Desperate to keep things hidden, Andrea says Renalto is in the arts. Cultural Attache to the Italian Embassy to be exact and that Albin is a housewife.

Exactly, the prostitute could have been male as well.

Well you know how this gag works, Laurent asks his father and mother to play along with the ruse, the bit of subterfuge and naturally like clockwork it blows up in everyone's face but can they right that which was wronged and the kids get married regardless of the parents' opinions of one another?

Now what separates this from The Birdcage is the following: The amazing musical scoring brought by legendary composer Ennio Morricone (Once Upon a Time in the West, He and She, A Fist Full of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, Navajo Joe, Danger: Diabolik, Cold Eyes of Fear, The Fifth Cord, Devil in the Brain, Inglourious Basterds and The Hateful Eight) simply breathes life into every scene from the ominous score to disapproving father and mother to the light-hearted chores of the day for Albin. It in itself feels like a character of the show.

Ugo and Michel's chemistry and the way they play off each other feels more believable and wholesome. The neighbors don't simply accept that they are gay but it is an every day thing. It feels less taboo and frown upon in this 1978 film then the uptight take on it 18 years later in the States. Wake up America! Michel Serrault's prima donna is vastly more believable than Nathan Lane's performance but that is my take.  This felt less slap-sticky and just more of a romp of humor and situational humor. Now don't get me wrong, I love The Birdcage but maybe for all the wrong reasons. I loved that Nathan Lane and Hank Azaria were way over the top and I realized that seems a pretty askew way of viewing something as simple as gay men.  Robin was of course simply brilliant but was it merely his improv and then later drama?  Not sure now.
La Cage aux Folles feels like the real mccoy but The Birdcage is chaotic and a bit campy.
For the love that is all holy get the French version with English subtitles. Their inflections from joy, anger, sorrow and zany is completely worth it. Run away from the English dubbed because several of the jokes just get lost in translation. Not a big surprise there.

Michael Caine got weird in the 70s.