By Keith Staskiewicz
September 05, 2013 at 04:00 AM EDT
Everett Collection
  • Stage

It’s no wonder La Cage aux Folles (1978, 1 hr., 36 mins., R) ended up getting remade twice, once in 1983 as a Broadway musical and again as 1996’s The Birdcage. The film has a premise too perfect to be left alone: A gay couple attempt to act straight and straitlaced for the conservative parents of their son’s fiancée. Coadapted from Jean Poiret’s original play by screenwriter Francis Veber — the reigning monarch of French comedy whose work has been Hollywoodized too many times to count, including in The Toy, Buddy Buddy, Father’s Day, and Dinner for SchmucksLa Cage‘s subject matter was somewhat outrageous for American audiences at the time. (Although its sexual-identity politics now seem downright archaic.) Nevertheless, it was a hugely successful import — perhaps because its comedic roots run so deep. Like many of the best farces, from The Importance of Being Earnest to Cactus Flower, it draws its humor from characters pretending to be something they’re not. Michel Serrault’s Albin is the film’s hilarious centerpiece, a drag queen whose flamboyance refuses to be held in abeyance. It’s a surprise to learn from the new Criterion release’s EXTRAS that Serrault was a devout Christian and uncomfortable with the role, especially considering how uproarious and subtly moving he is in it. But regardless of his beliefs, he’s the beating heart that elevates the film from a simple sitcom to something far more fabulous. B+

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  • 12/09/04
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