Written by Zac Platt.
The Gilded Cage is a familial comedy written and directed by Ruben Alves and follows hard-working couple Maria (Rita Blanco) and José Ribeiro (Joaquim de Almeida), whose dream to return to their Portuguese homeland comes true when they discover they’ve inherited the family winery. When word gets out that Maria and José will be leaving, their employers and family come to realise how valuable they’ve been and endeavour to stop them from heading off.
While the plot does sound a bit like a zany romp with diabolical bosses and honest, loving, ‘salt of the earth’ protagonists, this Parisian comedy is actually quite grounded, exploring its themes of class and culture with a gentle touch and believable characters. With easy-to-root-for characters and an inspiring message of taking charge and living your own life, The Gilded Cage is a warm and inviting comedy for the family, held back only by a little too much cheese in some places and a handful of small contrivances in the script.
There is something undeniably satisfying about seeing good things happen to good people. As thankless workers who clearly take pride in what they do, you can’t help but smile along with Maria and José as things begin going their way in the first half of the film. The guilt they feel for leaving their bosses is telling of their character, and perhaps justifies the sense of betrayal they feel when they realise they are being manipulated to stay. But when said manipulation consists of providing José with a raise and making Maria feel more valued, it feels like an unnecessary escalation when they decide to get them back.
There are a few other situations that feel equally overblown, in particular the daughter Paula (Barbara Cabrita) who screams at her parents for not being true to themselves, essentially for over-dressing at a dinner party and trying to cook something that wasn’t Portuguese. Alves very clearly wants to get a certain message across, but the plot fails to give a compelling argument for that message in a lot of situations, sometimes making the members of the Ribeiro family look like they are worsening the racial tension by constantly making mountains out of molehills. I certainly don’t mean to imply that these issues don’t exist, but the film fails to present them in a way that justifies much of the conflict.
Luckily, the Ribeiros themselves are an easier sell. With the exception of some peripheral characters that come off as a distracting in-joke, The Gilded Cage boasts a welcoming and relatable cast. Above contrivances aside, the family’s onscreen chemistry has a muted authenticity that communicates complex feelings of disappointment and pride without a word being said (which is more of a shame when the script makes them say too much). Much of this is thanks to Rita Blanco’s empathetic turn as Maria. Somehow both matriarchal and subservient in the same moment, Blanco carries a quiet sense of accomplishment and dignity just below the surface that acts as her armour in a world that makes her feel powerless.
Joaquim de Almeida is similarly lovable in his role as José, spending much of the film as Maria’s masculine equivalent until the two become at odds as the second act gears up. Unfortunately, any respect gained for the character is lost after the actions he takes at a pivotal point in the film. He’s presented as being in the wrong, and bravo to the film for being unafraid to taint their thus-far paragoned protagonist, but the act is glossed over and treated as nothing more than a faux pas. Perhaps it’s an issue of cultural translation, but it’s uncomfortable being expected to make light of man capable of acting in such a way.
The Gilded Cage is clearly a film leaning toward a certain demographic, so someone falling outside of that scope may not find it as relatable (especially with some of the indulgent characters in the extended family). Though perhaps not presented as well as they could be, the themes are universal and the film’s uplifting thesis is served in easy to swallow portions that never distract from the light-hearted comedy film it sets out to be. Enjoyable despite its flaws, The Gilded Cage is a cosy family comedy with a relatable cast and a fun conceit.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10