Monday, August 25, 2014

The Birdcage. B+

It's always a good idea to visit or revisit a great artist's work upon their death, not just to be reminded of their genius but also to respect it. For Robin Williams, doing so seems doubly important considering the fact that his beloved image on screen was such the antithesis of his dark personal life. There are several of his movies that I simply dig and would be happy to watch again, but there are also quite a few of his more popular movies I've somewhat embarrassingly never actually seen. There are also countless little gems buried in his filmography that don't get the attention they deserve; one that I recently viewed after Williams' passing was The Birdcage, a film that today is mostly known to fans of Elaine May. Not to detract from Williamsperformance in the movie-which is stellar-but the big deal with The Birdcage really is that one-time comedy routine partners May and Mike Nichols finally decided to collaborate on a movie with quite stunning results. I saw this and the Seth Rogan/Zac Efron comedy hit Neighbors on the same night, and it was astounding how naturally the former was able to keep its diverse jokes flowing, while the latter (despite a good set-up) never found its footing. The credit for The Birdcage seems largely to go to May's script, which has all the hallmarks that make her such a good comedic writer: she's not afraid to be stupid, she understands that good comedy shouldn't be narrowed down to just a few types of jokes, and, in spite of the way she tends to let absurdity build to an extreme crescendo, there's always a strange kind of insightful intelligence that grows along with it. The Birdcage has a little silent comedy here, a little 40s screwball there, and enough suggestive wit and political probing that it would never have been made in either of those periods. In my mind, you can forget Ishtar; this is Elaine May at her best. And, to get back to the original point, Robin Williams is tremendous, delivering-in his trademark fashion-emotional support on top of his jokes. 

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