I had an entertaining evening watching movies and the falling snow. Nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner won two. Katharine Hepburn won for Best Leading Actress, and William Rose won Best Screenplay. Sidney Poitier wasn’t nominated, though admittedly, it wasn’t my favorite of his performances. He did, however, receive a Fotogramas de Plata award for Best Foreign Performer with good reason. The script and, I suspect, direction didn’t exactly spoil the actors of color. Ultimately, it was a remarkable and remarkably popular film for its time two years prior to my birth, and despite some cringe-worthy moments, I love it. And yes, I totally cried during Spencer Tracy’s monologue to the rest of the cast in the climactic scene. Watch it and see if you don’t. I also have to mention Isabel Sanford who did an amazing job with a problematic role as the Drayton’s sassy black maid, Tillie, said to be a member of the family. I have all manner of problem with that, but ultimately, I have to give the writers, cast, director, and producers respect for pushing the social and professional envelope for the time. It’s more sad to me, frankly, that we’ve come such a short way since then.

That led thematically to 1996’s The Birdcage. It was the first time I’d seen this or any of his films since Robin Williams’ death in 2014, and while I felt a pang of melancholy starting out, I was quickly swept away in the performances that—though snubbed by The Academy—won the SAG Outstanding Performance by a Cast Award for Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, Christine Baranski, and Dan Futterman. Oddly, the bride-to-be was not named in the award; if you’re not as great a nerd as I am, you may not recall that this snubbed actress was Calista Flockhart. And yes, I laughed out loud during the kitchen scene in which Robin Williams genuinely accidentally fell, recovered (though close inspection seems to reveal some barely checked laughter), and went on to finish the scene that made it to the final cut. Robin, Nathan, and Hank seemed to be having fun throughout the film, and it did my heart good to see it. I certainly hope that everyone else did as well. Regardless, I enjoyed watching it.

If you’re familiar with the films, you realize that their mutual theme is of young lovers introducing themselves to the soon-to-be in-laws who also happen to be polar opposites on a particular social status. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the parents (and lovers) were black and white. In The Birdcage, her parents are a right-wing conservative senator and his appropriately stodgy wife, while his parents are a gay male couple who own and operate a drag club in South Beach. Given the casting and concepts, even those of you who haven’t seen either film probably realize that the latter was the more comedic of the two, and you’d be rather gloriously correct. Another of the more memorable scenes involves trying to butch up Nathan’s drag diva character’s walk by way of The Duke himself, John Wayne. The results are cinematic magic. If you want to laugh and feel a litter better about your own crazy family, it’s definitely worth an evening.

For more information or to reserve a copy of either film from a participating PrairieCat library, visit the links below.

 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner—IMDb or PrairieCat

The Birdcage—IMDb or PrairieCat

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