Daily Archives: June 1, 2020

The Birdcage

From the Chicago Reader (March 8, 1996). — J.R.


One swell reason for seeing this fresh Americanized remake of La cage aux folles — the 1978 French farce about a middle-aged gay couple — written by Elaine May for her old improv partner, producer-director Mike Nichols, and costarring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as the couple — is its hilarious depiction of Pat Buchanan as played by Gene Hackman, which implies, among other things, that only a drag queen could adequately fulfill Buchanan’s dream of ideal womanhood. More specifically, the son (Dan Futterman) of the proprietor (Williams) of a Florida nightclub with a drag show called “The Birdcage” becomes engaged to the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of an ultraconservative senator (Hackman) who wants to visit his future in-laws, leading to frantic preparations for a dinner party at which the proprietor’s drag-queen partner winds up playing the boy’s mother. (Hackman’s wife, incidentally, is played by Dianne Wiest.) This isn’t the supreme masterpiece it might have been, but Nichols’s direction is very polished and some of the lines and details are awfully funny.

— Jonathan Rosenbaum

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Elaine and Erich, Two Peas in a Pod?

From the Los Angeles Times’ Calendar, June 14, 1987. For readers who might wonder how I could have ever gotten such an assignment, I should point out that in this period, the Los Angeles Times was running anti-Ishtar articles virtually every day over several weeks, so I assume that my contrary position must have had some interest for them strictly as a novelty.  This piece is reprinted in my most recent collection, Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics (2019).  — J.R.

In all of Elaine May’s films, one encounters a will to power, a witty genius for subversion and caricature, and a dark, corrosive vision that recalls the example of Eric von Stroheim. The legendary Austrian-born director who started out, like May, as an aggressive actor (“The Man You Love to Hate”), Stroheim the film maker was known throughoutthe ’20s for his intransigence and extravagance — what one studio head termed his “footage fetish’.

The thematic and stylistic parallels between May and Stroheim are equally striking. Broadly speaking, “A New Leaf” is her “Blind Husbands” — a bold first film about ferocious, cynical flirtation, with the writer-director in the lead part. The Miami of “The Heartbreak Kid matches the Monte Carlo of “Foolish Wives”; the squalor and hysteria of “Mikey and Nicky” hark back to “Greed.”… Read more »

Rocking the Vote

This appeared in  the May 22, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.


Rating *** A must see

Directed by Warren Beatty

Written by Beatty and Jeremy Pikser

With Beatty, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt, Jack Warden, Paul Sorvino, Don Cheadle, and Amiri Baraka.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

“Warren Beatty co-wrote, directed, and stars in this satire about a self-destructive U.S. senator using race-baiting tactics to get reelected.” I assume Mark Caro hadn’t seen Bulworth when he wrote this capsule for the Chicago Tribune‘s May 10 summer movie preview. It only goes to show the risks you run when you try to make a movie that tells the truth politically and then limit this “truth” to a series of sound bites; sooner or later that form of TV abbreviation is going to bite you back.

More precisely, Bulworth is about a Democratic senator from California (Beatty), up for reelection in 1996, who is having a nervous breakdown, takes out a contract on himself, and then finds himself blurting out the truth instead of the usual packaged lies during his campaign. He hasn’t slept for days, and after throwing caution to the winds and going off to a hip-hop club with Nina (Halle Berry) and two other young women from South Central LA, he starts parsing out all his public statements in rap, scandalizing his staff and various media people with the form and content of his forthright declarations.… Read more »