July 10, 2011

Queer Review: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007)

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Director: Dennis Dugan
Writers: Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor, and Lew Gallo
Cast: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Jessica Biel, Dan Aykroyd, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Cole Morgen, Shelby Adamowsky

Somewhere buried in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry there is a really good movie struggling to get out. That is, until it got smothered by Adam Sandler's juvenile "comedy" and therefore what we are stuck with is a half baked retread of better and edgier queer movies with a stinky side dish of homophobia.

Following the passing of his wife, fire-fighter Larry Valentine (Kevin James) has a problem. Due to an unfortunate bureaucratic detail, if he were to die, his kids Eric and Tori (Cole Morgen and Shelby Adamowsky) would be unable to access his pension. So he does what any sane heterosexual father would do, he gets married to his best friend and fellow firefighter Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler). Unfortunately, their sham relationship is under scrutiny by fraud inspector Clint Fitzer (Steve Buscemi) and they must turn to a lawyer Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel) for aid. Unfortunately, more complications arise when Chuck finds that he has feelings (sexual and possibly love) for Alex.

The Queering
In a way Chuck and Larry are facing a rather similar issue that many gay people deal with all the time. That is, in order to succeed, they must closet their heterosexuality in order to uphold a sham marriage domestic partnership. If they fail at this, they face the same problems that queers who were caught by the authorities did at the time of Stonewall, persecution and imprisonment.

It is therefore unfortunate that whatever cleverness there may have been in the premise is quickly overshadowed by the crude comedy employed by Adam Sandler. This film does not even limit itself to offensive gay stereotypes, there are also cruel jabs at the obese during an early fire rescue sequence and some degrading commentary about woman throughout. For whatever reason, Sandler had to make it very clear from the outset that his character is a straight, manly-manly skirt chaser. This would not be a problem in of itself, but Sandler knows no subtleties and goes for the overkill. The scene where he fondles Biel's boobs made me feel like I was watching a sexual assault. I found myself wondering if this movie would have been better if another actor, such as Jim Carrey who gave a brilliant performance in I Love You Phillip Morris, had played Chuck. I also had a problem with Steve Buscemi's obviously gay, fanny pack wearing, villain, as this is the epitome of the effeminate male villain that pervades far too many movies.

Kevin James is fine as Larry, a firefighter still struggling with the death of a beloved wife, even though it's been more than a year since the tragic event. It is too bad that his quiet performance is overshadowed by Sandler's screen hog. I also enjoyed Eric, Larry's effeminate son, who manages to be one of the small pleasures offered up by the movie. Ving Rhames, who usually plays the heavy, also gives a delightfully subversive performance as a tough black guy with a wee little secret.

I regret that the pedantic speeches at the end condemning bigotry could not undo what had gone on before. There is an uneasy union between the homophobic jokes and the high minded ideals expressed in the screenplay. In short, I now pronounce this to be one marriage that is headed for divorce court.

For non-homophobic Adam Sandler fans, this could offer up a few laughs. Anyone else is advised to stay away.

The Rating


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