Is it possible to have too much Madeline Kahn? Happy Birthday, Gemini answers yes. But it’s not her fault. The role of Bunny Weinberger was a supporting part in Albert Innaurato’s hit Off-Broadway play. A blowsy neighbor who provided comic relief. When Kahn was cast, Innaurato and director Richard Benner expanded the role without integrating her into the plot. Thus, the story of a young man’s coming out process is interrupted for 22 minutes of Bunny’s antics. If the material was funny, it wouldn’t matter. But the screechy role is not worthy of Kahn talents.
Read more in this spoiler filled recap.
Act One: Secrets
Scene One: A Backyard in Philadelphia
WASP TWINS Happy 21st birthday! We’re here for the party.
FRANCIS (Italian and neurotic): Go away.
GIRL TWIN: Why did you ghost me? I thought we were dating.
FRANCIS: I think I’m gay.
GIRL TWIN: Did some boy seduce you?
FRANCIS: No. He doesn’t know I like him. (Stares nervously at Boy Twin.)
Scene Two: A Courthouse
ANGRY WOMAN: She broke my arm!
MADELINE KAHN: It was self-defense. She caught me sleeping with her husband and tried to kill me.
JUDGE: Case dismissed.
Scene Three: The Supporting Cast
PAPA: I wish my son liked football.
RITA MORENO: I’m sleeping with Francis’s Papa but don’t tell anyone. I’m a good Catholic girl.
MADELINE KAHN’s SON: I like trains! I like trains! I have asthma! GASP!
Act Two: Distractions
Scene Four: A Fire Escape
MADELINE KAHN: I’m gonna jump!
EVERYONE: Don’t do it.
MADELINE KAHN: Okay.
Scene Five: Francis’s Bedroom.
BOY TWIN: Bet you’re not gay.
FRANCIS: Bet I am.
BOY TWIN: Bet you’re too scared to sleep with me. (Strips to swimsuit.)
FRANCIS: Bet I’m not. (Moves in close.)
BOY TWIN: Aw heck you called my bluff. But if you’re really gay than what am I?
MADELINE KAHN’s SON: Wanna play with my train?
BOY TWIN: NO! (Flees.)
Act Three: Reconciliations
Scene Six: A Restaurant
BOY TWIN: Sorry I got scared.
FRANCIS: That’s okay.
GIRL TWIN: Ah ha! You stole my boyfriend!
FRANCIS: I’m not your boyfriend!
(The rest of the cast barges in with a cake.)
PAPA: Happy birthday!
(Francis destroys the cake and flees.)
Scene Seven: The Backyard
WASP TWINS: We were hoping you’d spend the summer with us. But I guess this is goodbye. (They exit.)
FRANCIS: Papa, I think I’m gay.
PAPA: I love you no matter what. Now let’s catch those twins before they leave town! (They do.)
MADELINE KAHN: I called my ex-boyfriend and we reconnected and… Where’d everybody go?
Charles in Charge
[N]either sincere enough to be poignant or ridiculous enough to be campy fun.Critic Bill Antoniou
Alan Rosenberg snaps and scowls as the miserable Francis. Kahn and her son (Timothy Jenkins) shout and scream to no avail. Rita Moreno and David Marshall Grant (Boy Twin) fare better by underplaying their roles. They earn laughs without breaking a sweat.
When the movie flopped Innaurato had the play filmed for television. Danny Aiello (Do the Right Thing) played Papa. Sheree North (Oliver!) played a restrained Bunny. And conservative sitcom star Scott Baio played Francis. Baio’s more comfortable with the queer romance than the wisecracking comedy. But Francis ends the play without coming out to his father. This addition to the film provides him a proper arc.
I’d only recommend the film to queer cinema scholars and Madeline Kahn completists. It was adapted into a musical in 2006 but critics were bored. I’d be more interested in seeing a revival of the original play.