In and Out (12)

Directed by Frank Oz
Starring Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon

A deeply disappointing comedy based on Tom Hanks' Oscar speech for Philedelphia. It stars the usually reliable Kevin Kline as Howard Brackett, a small town high school teacher. Dumb actor Matt Dillon wins an improbable Oscar and in his speech mentions his teacher and announces that he is gay. To Howard and his fiancee Emily(the ever wonderful Joan Cusack), and indeed the whole town, this is something of a shock. Howard and Emily are due to get married the same week. Shady tv reporter Tom Selleck arrives to cover the story, along with a throng of others. However, Selleck is also gay, and forces Howard to consider his sexuality.
I have found it hard to articulate or even clearly identify what it was that I found so deeply irritating and offensive about this film. I thought it was embarrasingly bad in almost every way! However, taken separately, the elements are not that bad and the film is well meaning enough. But I suppose what I find so offensive is that when we are almost at the new millenium, a film can have at its core the patronizing message that it is OK to be gay. Is that really as far as Hollywood has got? Surely that theme is one that does not need to be rammed down out throats in such an unsubtle way? OK, so small town attitudes may still be slow to change, but a teacher being sacked for coming out? Ignorant attitudes from just about everyone in sight? Stupid ideas like the re-inforcing of the steroetyped gay man image- prissy, arty, clean, sensitive, into Barbra Streisand? These are cheap and easy laughs indicative of laziness on the part of the scriptwriters. (OK, so there are a few quite good laughs to be had at Ms Streisand's expense.)
A talented cast fumble with the weak script and revert to their own personas; Kline(on a bike AGAIN!! He must be sponsored by Raleigh!) is likable and with that little glint in his eye for the most part, descending into his outraged wide eyed act at times. Matt Dillon always seems to play this, dumb but well meaning role. I am a huge Joan Cusack fan- she was my actress of last year for Grosse Point Blank, and I was delighted to see her name on the Oscar nominees list for this film. Having seen the film, it isn't her best performance, and she may suffer Lauren Bacall's fate of last year- the Academy are reluctant to reward performances in bad films, and of course there is the Barbra Streisand link too. Cusack spends much of the time playing sumb or screeching, but she screeches well! Tom Selleck has the most opportunity to try something different, but the big kiss between him and Kline, while maybe daring for a Hollywood comedy, is not really in context- his character's motives for the kiss are improbable- they do because the script says so and, wow, isn't it great, an all male kiss scene!
The best scene in the film is between a group of old ladies revealing THEIR secrets after Howard's coming out, including the shocking revelation from one old dear that she hated The Bridges of Madison County!! Every now and then, Muppet Man, Frank Oz shows us glimpses of what could have been a funny film. Maybe I am being too negative- I've been criticized for that- maybe to others it is a nice well meaning film that has gentle laughs, nice characters and shows gays as real people rather than comedy relief or the token gay brother/assisstant/interior designer etc. Perhaps any film that features a gay hero is a step in the right direction. But I still don't agree with the wheeling out of just about every prejudice against gays in the name of comedy. Far more positive would have been to have Kline as straight, but because of the attention and focus, other characters like one of the school kids or one of the men in town to come out. One who isn't neat and well dressed, or artsy or into musicals. I would be very interested to know your opinions on this, particularly if you are gay- do mail me and let me know what you think. Personally, I couldn't leave the cinema fast enough. 4/10.

February 1998

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