Gene Hackman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Senator Ken Keeley in The Birdcage.
Hackman and Dianne Wiest play the parents which are roles that often are rather boring in films like this and only there to look stupid in front of the lively flamboyant leads. Well thankfully that is not the case in this film because the writing actually gives them something to do, but also if you have Gene Hackman in one of the roles it will be far less likely that there will be a comedy deficiency with his role. I have reviewed Hackman before in mostly comic roles like The Royal Tenenbaums and Superman where he excelled without question, but in these were very extroverted roles. Senator Keeley is quite the opposite in that he is not even really required to be funny for the film to work actually.
In the more introverted role though Hackman still is quite hilarious from his first scene where his daughter tells him about her intent to marry going so far to tell him that she has been sleeping with the man for over a year. Hackman starts with hilarity through his perfectly delivered "blahh" and complete disgust at the information. Technically a lot of what Hackman does is just some fairly standard stuff, but Hackman tweaks his performance ever so slightly to make whatever he does very funny. It's hard to get down right to do what exactly Hackman does here as he still could easily transition this performance to a serious portrayal of Senator Ken Keeley. Hackman though knows just how to play every moment to be funny never appearing like he trying to be funny in anyway.
This only continues once the farce starts when they meet gay club owner Armand (Williams) and Albert(Lane), although Lane dresses up as a woman to hide the truth about who they are. Hackman again still keeps Keeley very much in the situation playing believably his positive reactions to Albert in particularly who as a woman espouses basically every view that coincides with Keeley's own. Hackman does not wink yet still is always very amusing because of that particularly in his long and slow monologue about the foliage in America and the purple mountain majesty and such. The whole point of the monologue is that it is suppose to be rather boring to say the least, he gets that point across, but makes the whole ting very funny because of his flawless delivery.
The last thing for Hackman really to do is play the whole revelation of everything which Hackman again plays to great comedic effect through his deadpan confusion at the matter. Hackman really made the movie for me as I easily found him to be the funniest performance even though his effort to be funny seemed the least apparent. Hackman as per usual simply knows how to play every scene just right. He is completely convincing as the senator as he should be fulfilling his whole point in the film incredibly well, but Hackman does not let that just be that. He goes the extra mile giving a very entertaining performance as well, proving himself capable on the more introverted side of comedy, and also stealing film right out from under the noses of the more flamboyant performances found in the ensemble.