Monday, December 10, 2012
IN & OUT
(September 1997, U.S.)
I have to tell before I begin that I've got a song stuck in my head as I write this blog for IN & OUT. It's "Squeeze Box" by The Who. If you know the song well or want to take the time to look up the lyrics, you'll know what I mean. Hey, at least it's a good song!
So let me take you back to a Saturday afternoon is September 1997, Westhampton Beach, Long Island. A friend of mine and I decide to take in a matinee in Southampton. We eagerly look it up in the newspaper and decide to see Kevin Kline's new comedy that looked absolutely hilarious based on nothing more than the trailer and the TV commercials. We get to the movie theater, and what do we do?...we decide to see L.A. CONFIDENTIAL instead. Thank goodness because that was the best film of 1997 (sorry TITANIC!)! I also got to meet legendary actor Roy Scheider when it was over. But anyway, just give it about a week later, and I'm in the theater again watching Frank Oz's great "gay" comedy and laughing my ass off! Yes, the man does wonders for Miss Piggy and Yoda, but if you've ever seen DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988) or WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991), then you know his comedies are likely to have you laughing your fucking ass off, too!
Like any film about a gay man or woman, it's very easy to spend your time looking for and noting the obvious messages about acceptance, tolerance and justice. It's also very easy to take into account that this comedy is based on many true incidents and stories. Although it would require more research than I was willing to give time to for this light-hearted comedy, it's well known that somewhere out there in real life is a man who infamously came "out" at his wedding. Somewhere out there in real life is a man (or more than one) who was unjustly fired from his teaching position because he was gay. And let's face it, EVERYBODY who ever watched the Oscars throughout the 1990s knows very well how Tom Hanks publicly thanked his gay high school drama coach when he accepted the Oscar for best actor for his role in PHILIDELPHIA (1993).
So there you have the (supposed) facts that inspire IN & OUT. Now you throw in Kevin Kline, who, when he's not showing off his extreme Shakespearean talent, is quite the funny man (just watch A FISH CALLED WANDA for proof!). You have to also remember that even back in 1997 (really, it doesn't seem like that long ago to me), coming out of the closet was still enough of a controversy to gain the attention of the media and provoke shock and bewilderment to those who'd never expect it. Hell, it pretty much ended Ellen Degeneres' TV sitcom when she came out and ended up on the cover of Time magazine. Today, it seems like nobody truly gives a shit anymore when someone comes out of the closet (as it should be, I guess). But for the purposes of this film, the timing of 1997 still works and the subject of a respectable Indiana high school English teacher and track coach being "outed" by a young movie star at the Oscars (a' la Tom Hanks!) is still worthy of the inevitable stereotypical profiling and humorous backlash that will make the film funny. And in addition to Kevin Kline, I have to say that nobody plays a very nervous man better than Bob Newhart. I still remember him in THE BOB NEWHART SHOW on CBS in the 1970s. When you also watch Debbie Reynolds playing an overbearing, demanding mother like she does here (and as Grace Adler's mother on WILL & GRACE), then, geez, no wonder Carrie Fisher was so fucked up in her life!
Speaking of the media, when you're watching the film, listen carefully to some of the absolutely asinine questions Howard is barraged with from reporters like, "Should gay men be allowed to handle fresh produce?" and "Should there be lesbians on Mars?". Oh, brother!
Now let's focus for a moment on the key word that spells out IN & OUT, and that's STEREOTYPICAL. Everything in this film that suggests Howard Brackett (Kline) is gay is purely sterotypical from the eyes and perception of those in the small Indiana town that know and love him. It's his profession of being an English teacher who loves poetry and sonnets, it's his very neat and perhaps "prissy" attire and demeanor, it's his almost unnatural, rather frightening love of Barbra Streisand movies that define him a gay man. But consider this question - is all of that really enough proof to convince the viewer that Howard Brackett is truly gay?? Think about it - at no time in the film does anyone ever actually ask Howard the question, "Do you like men?" At no time does Howard actually admit to liking men, nor does he ever really give the physical impression that he's comfortably attracted to men (not even Tom Selleck). It's almost as if he finally decides to come out of the closet simply because he's inevitably convinced himself that there are enough stereotypical elements to correctly paint the portrait of himself as a gay man. Hey, I'M an architect, I love 70's disco music and I DO eat quiche! Does that make me gay??
Well, excuse me now, people. I think I'll go make love to my wife while cranking up Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive"!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Howard Brackett (enraged in front of the video camera): "Howard Brackett is a big, homo, queer, Mary, sissy man! He just came out at his big church wedding! Martha Stewart is f-u-u-r-r-ious!"