On In and Out

Featuring Shawn Hatosy (The Faculty), Lauren Ambrose (Torchwood: Miracle Day), Selma Blair (Cruel Intentions, Legally Blonde), the late Debbie Reynolds, and directed by Frank Oz (Follow That Bird, Little Shop of Horrors, The Muppets Take Manhattan, The Muppet Christmas Carol), In & Out is certainly qualifies as one of the sweetest social commentaries on gay American at the time, complete with an awesome Graduation scene I have never gotten over seeing. Honestly, it brings a smile to my face every single time I watch it.

According to The New York Times review:

Everything that ”In and Out” has to say about masculine behavior is encapsulated in a single dance scene with Kevin Kline, a scene in which Mr. Kline is pure bliss. There he is, dressed like Paul Bunyan and almost alone, except for a surreally meddlesome instructional tape that is trying to teach him what real men — Paul Bunyan men — do.

That subject has become a sore one for Howard Brackett, the high school teacher whom Mr. Kline plays with athletic poise and supreme comedic elegance, because his students, boss, mother and fiancee all think he’s gay. They think this because they have heard it, as have a billion or so others, on the Academy Awards show. As a character who started out as the real Tom Hanks of ”Philadelphia” and is now a nice-guy Brad Pitt, Matt Dillon plays the Oscar winner who unwittingly yanks his favorite teacher out of the closet.

”In and Out,” which is not a film to wonder how the star learned his teacher’s secret or to associate gayness with actual sex, then offers Howard this inspired way to act out his confusion. ”Stand straight and tall!” orders the tape, and Howard tries. ”Excuse me, are we a little teapot?” the tape asks, when Howard accidentally crooks one hand on his hip.

”Repeat after me,” the tape continues: ”Yo! Hot damn! What a fabulous window treatment! That was a trick!” And then, having battled with himself even more furiously than Jim Carrey did in ”Liar Liar,” Howard can fight no more. He tears off the plaid flannel, strips down to a tight black T-shirt and lets himself go wild to a disco beat.

This delirious sequence comes midway through a frequently funny but surprisingly strait-laced comedy, one that too often imagines homosexuality as a taste for bow ties and a reverence for a certain movie queen. (Howard’s idea of fighting words: ”She was too old for ‘Yentl!’ ”) Even as written by the dependably hilarious Paul Rudnick, it has more than its share of mail-order Hollywood moments. Mr. Rudnick, writing as his alter ego Libby Gelman-Waxner in Premiere, would undoubtedly kvetch about the kind of finale that has everyone in the school auditorium (or restaurant, bathroom or bus) chiming in to comment on the main characters’ lives.

Directed by Frank Oz with a sure hand for ”Birdcage” humor, ”In and Out” does deliver laughs and skewer a few stereotypes, thanks to extremely sly wit and a fine cast. And the actors spend at least as much time satirizing straight behavior as Mr. Kline does registering astonishment over Howard’s being gay. Especially good is Joan Cusack as the fellow teacher who has been trying to rope Howard into something more than a shared bowl of popcorn for three years, and who has slimmed down dramatically in honor of the planned nuptials. ”Weight has been lost!” she intones solemnly, as if saying, ”Attention must be paid!”

”I almost didn’t recognize you,” the bride-to-be is told by one of the town’s folksy characters, a lot of whom have a fondness for cabbage-rose prints. ”We worked very hard,” replies Debbie Reynolds, who has cornered the market on sweet-voiced maternal witchiness and plays Ms. Cusack’s mother.

Wilford Brimley plays Howard’s father, who like the rest of the town is thrown into turmoil by news of his son’s sexual orientation. ”Will you be going into show business?” he asks earnestly. And from the show business continent Mr. Dillon delivers a cheerful caricature, with Shalom Harlow as his girlfriend, a model who is stymied by the demands of using a rotary phone. These supporting figures help mask the film’s being so reluctant to consider Howard’s future that it loses track of him late in the story. It never suggests that being gay and being married might not be mutually exclusive.

Tom Selleck is suavely funny as the gay television reporter who helps Howard understand what’s been bothering him and who also covers Howard’s outing with tabloid zeal. (”Greenleaf High, Cradle of Crisis” is the title of one of his reports.) Bob Newhart is also a welcome presence as a principal who stammers over embarrassing words. And there are some funny moments for the school’s cloddish straight students, who try their best to figure Howard out. ”He’s smart and well dressed and very clean,” one muses. ”It doesn’t look good.”

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One thought on “On In and Out

  1. Pingback: On The Stepford Wives | The Progressive Democrat

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