Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Film has fun with the gay life

Cleveland Press December 17, 1979

"La Cage Aux Folles" is "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" French style.

Or -- how does a straight 20-year-old guy whose father has a male lover handle the situation when the parents of his bride-to-be want to meet his family?

It's bad enough when his father and his aunt/uncle learn that he is about to marry a female.

For better or worse, mostly worse, homosexuality has become a standard comic commodity\ in show business.

At its best, "La Cage" is funny because it sets up farcical situations in which people don't know the truth about each other or about what is going on, the stuff of which farce is made.

But more often its attempts at humor are those in which we are asked to laugh at the trappings -- cosmetic, physical and psychological -- of male homosexuals.

Is their makeup on right? Are their wigs straight? Do they sob and have hysterics and demand attention in the usual female stereotype situations?

To give "La Cage" its due, it is well performed and well directed so that after a time it is the humor of contrasting cultures and life styles that takes over rather than the strangeness of one large set of characters.

To make the contrast sharper, both families are far from typical.

The young man's father runs a transvestite nightclub in which the star performer has been the father's lover for 20 years. The girl's father is a government deputy and the chief the Union of Moral Order and father and mother are social climbers.

Daughter tells parents that her future father-in-law is a diplomat. The son tells his father to get rid of the frills around the apartment, get rid his lover whom the boy refers to as auntie and to get rid of the male maid who walks around in brief attire.

That "La Cage" succeeds as well as it does is due to the expert playing of Ugo Tognazzi as the father, Michel Serrault as his male lover.

Tognazzi's playing is the more subtle as it should be. Serrault swishes boldly but suggests the hopelessness of being caught in a limbo that has no sexual definition.

Although his off-stage attire is masculine, it is colorful and jewel bedecked. He tries hard to please the young man by donning a conservative blue suit and ridding himself of makeup but it is hopelessly wrong. At the other extreme, he dons wig, gown and makeup to pose as the young man's mother at dinner and it is about as wild a caricature as the one in "Charley's Aunt."

But there is a difference. "Charley's Aunt" was not about homosexuals and "La Cage" is. The newer comedy deals with the more blatant stereotyped aspects of the subject.

It is slapstick and it is funny. I found it amusing though often strained and occasionally slipping in matters of taste. Whether its humor also is cruel is something you'd have to ask a homosexual to decide.