April 21, 2011

Queer Review: In and Out (1997)

In and Out
Director: Frank Oz
Writer: Paul Rudnick
Cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon

In spite of In and Out's over reliance on old formulas and familiar tropes, it still manages to be very funny movie. A charming leading performance by Kevin Kline, some smartly written dialog, and genuine humor manage to make this an entertaining film.

When Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) the former student of English teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is nominated for an Oscar, the small town of Greenleaf is eager to see one of their own make it big. Therefore everyone is watching Drake during his acceptance speech when he claims that Mr. Brackett is gay. Hijinks ensue as Bracket - who was engaged to be married Emily Montgomery (Joan Cusack) - must simultaneously defend himself against the reporters swarming into town - including Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) - and the homophobic school administration. Not surprisingly, during all of this Brackett finds himself questioning his own sexuality.

The Queering
There are enough familiar elements contained within In and Out that one might be tempted to label it a complete retread.. However, what saves it is the comedy - I spent a good portion of the movie laughing heartily at the antics of the characters. A lot of the humor is obvious but there's also many subtle bits as well. For example, pay attention to the song Bracket uses for his morning alarm.

While In and Out is consistently funny, it's not so consistent in other areas. The acting is good, but other than the self aware performances by Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck, not all that great. The characterization is also weak and too often relies on stereotypes and caricatures to create the individuals needed for the story to work.

I also have a few things to say regarding the film's characterization of gay men. 1) Not all gay men like Barbara Streisand. I don't. 2) We do not all have limp wrists.
3) Not all of us teach English and love Shakespeare. I mean seriously, while I do not wish to imply that there is anything wrong with flaming queens and effeminate males, it was the consistent portrayal of gay men as sensitive and swishy women trapped in male bodies - a fairly common portrayal for the 90's it seems - that was the reason why Brokeback Mountain was considered such a breakthrough nearly a decade after In and Out came out.

I will add though, that while the portrayal of Mr. Brackett as a limp wristed queer did not offend me, I was annoyed at the lack of acknowledgement by the characters that not all gay men act altogether effeminate and a not all straight men are macho. There are too many scenes where the possibility is completely ignored that a gay man might not be a stereotypical gay and a straight man might do things like dance to songs by The Village People or tuck in his shirt.

Humor may be subjective, but I doubt there will be many who won't find the jokes In and Out funny enough to warrant a look in spite of the problems I illustrated above.

The Rating

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