Do you remember the first time you saw a happy gay film? Mine was 1978’s La Cage Aux Folles. You may have seen the remake (1996’s The Birdcage) or the musical… but have you seen the sequels? In honor of Father’s Day let’s take a look at two famous gay dads.
This article recaps all three films and contains spoilers.
La Cage Aux Folles (1978)
La Cage Aux Folles ran for three years on stage before transferring to film with the original leading man. The film works because, phallic art aside, homosexuality is rarely the joke. Albin’s tantrums are ridiculous, but they come from insecurity. He’s coping with aging, body image and a desperate need to be loved. His conservative house guests are ridiculous in their own ways. His partner Renato is juggling the needs of a high maintenance partner with the needs of a short-sighted son. It’s a lose / lose situation that gets you on their side from the start.
RENATO (A nightclub owner): My son’s getting married!
ALBIN (His partner, a high strung drag queen): That’s good!
RENATO: To the daughter of a conservative politician.
ALBIN: That’s bad!
RENATO: They’re coming over for dinner.
ALBIN: That’s weird.
RENATO: So we have to take everything gay out of the house… including you.
ALBIN: That’s terrible.
Meet the In-laws
RENATO: How bout I try to teach you to act like his straight “uncle?”
ALBIN: How about I dress up as your wife instead? Hijinks!
SON: I realize I was the antagonist of this film, not the politician. But I won’t properly apologize for my behavior till the musical.
POLITICIAN: Renato, your wife is lovely but there are paparazzi chasing me.
ALBIN: Let’s dress you in drag and sneak you out through our nightclub.
La Cage Aux Folles II (1980)
Albin is referred to as a homosexual, a transvestite and a drag queen. Their partner refers to them by he/him pronouns while their servant Jacob addresses them with she/her pronouns. In the 1980 sequel Albin uses drag as a survival skill, wearing multiple disguises to escape various government agents. Yes, government agents. It’s the type of plot The Muppets would rely on for two of their films.
Spy Vs Spy
RENATO (A club owner): You’re too old for sexy songs. Try comedy songs.
ALBIN (His partner, a high-strung drag queen): I’ll go out in drag! You’ll see how sexy I am!
SPY IN WHITE: Pretend you’re my girlfriend!
(SPY IN WHITE hides microfilm on ALBIN before being shot by SPY IN BLACK)
ALBIN: I told you I was sexy.
RENATO: We need to disguise you in blackface. (It’s offensive). Then as a butch repair man. (It’s kinda funny). Hijinks!
SPY IN GRAY: I still recognize you. Let’s get you back in drag to lure out the killers.
ALBIN: I’ll pop out of a cake at a party! (Cute). Then teach undercover agents to “act gay.” (The subversive highlight of the film). Then hide in Italy dressed as a peasant woman. (Boring). Hijinks!
SPY IN BLACK: We found you! Where is the microfilm!
ALBIN: No idea. (Accidentally swallows microfilm. Coughs it up. SPIES shoot at each other)
CONSERVATIVE POLITICAN: I hate you but I have to congratulate you in front of the press for stopping the spies.
RENATO: Thanks but we didn’t do much.
ALBIN: This plot doesn’t give us any agency.
La Cage Aux Folles III : The Wedding (1985)
Albin and Renato returned for a sequel five years later. I’m not sure who asked for this. The plot is both busier and duller than its predecessors. However, it gives Albin some character growth and re-establishes Renato’s connection with his son.
ALBIN: I’ve inherited a fortune. But I have to marry a woman and father a child to claim it. Otherwise my COUSIN, who’s probably evil, gets everything.
RENATO: Our club is broke. Go through with the wedding or I’ll explore my bi-sexual side to make you jealous. (Sexually harasses nearby women).
ALBIN: Fine. Then I’ll propose to a Pregnant Woman to make you jealous.
PREGNANT WOMAN: I’m a plot device. With big 80’s hair.
A Political Donation
SON: Hi parents! I’m not the same actor from the first film but I’ll loan you money to save your club.
RENATO: I’m glad to see the writers have rehabilitated your character.
CONSERVATIVE POLITICIAN: You gave money from your Conservative Party salary to drag queens? My career is ruined! (Fires a shotgun at ALBIN in the middle of a bee themed drag number. It’s unpleasant.)
RENATO: I’ll pretend that was part of the show. We’re a hit!
ALBIN: You care more about the show than my safety. I’m leaving you.
RENATO: Then I’ll lie down on the train tracks!
ALBIN: This film is dark. I’ll lie down beside you to guilt you out of it. This is the calmest and most self-aware I’ve been in the series. And I’m calling this wedding off.
COUSIN: I’ll marry the Pregnant Woman and split the inheritance with Albin. And I’ll bet you all thought I was going to be evil.
ALBIN: And I had just put on this unflattering bridal gown! This movie was boring but at least I had some agency.
RENATO: I love you Albin. Let’s bid this franchise adieu.
Comedy and Tragedy
Cross-cultural marriage plots have been hits before. When it ends badly you get Romeo and Juliet. When it ends well you get comedies like Abie’s Irish Rose (1922) and You Can’t Take It With You (1936). Even the recent Addams Family Musical (2009) features an awkward dinner party with conservative relatives. I’ve no idea why this particular story captured lightning in a bottle, but I’m glad it did. Albin and Renato may seem like stereotypes now, but back then they said “gay rights” and moved on from there.
Have you seen La Cage or The Birdcage recently? How did they hold up for you?
Other Film and Television Fathers
Dad isn’t straight: Any Day Now (2012). Beginners (2010). Dear Ex (2018). The Dream Children (2015). Get Your Stuff (2000). Ideal Home (2018). It’s All Relative (2003-2004). Jonathan (2016). Modern Family (2009-). My Straight Son (2012). The New Normal (2012-2013). The Other Family (2011). Patrick, Age 1.5 (2008). That Certain Summer (1972).
For my previous article on films about gay fathers adopting click here. My article on mothers and gay sons is here. For more reviews of QUILTBAG media click here. And to the father’s out there of all stripes I bid a happy Father’s Day!