"In & Out"
Opened: Sept. 19, 1997 Rated: PG-13
When Tom Hanks won the Best Actor Oscar for "Philadelphia," he thanked a gay high school teacher for inspiring him, begetting the then-retired teacher his 15 minutes of fame.
Screenwriter and playwright Paul Rudnick ("Addams Family Values," "Jeffrey") had a strange reaction to this. Wouldn't it be funny, he thought, if the teacher wasn't gay?
In real life, probably not. But it's a riot in "In & Out," a lightly satirical comedy written by Rudnick that opens this weekend.
Kevin Kline plays Howard Brackett, a high school English teacher from idyllic Greenleaf, Ind. (it might as well be Mayberry) who is besieged by the townsfolk and the press when a Hollywood heartthrob ex-student thanks him during an Oscar speech, then adds "...and he's gay."
But Howard isn't gay -- or so it seems at first. He's engaged to be married the following week to a fellow teacher (the ingeniously over-the-top Joan Cusack), who doesn't take this development very well.
Howard's immediate reaction to his sexuality being called into question is to lay on the testosterone. He buys a motivational tape of masculinity exercises that instruct him to use macho catch phrases like "Yo!" and "Hot Damn" (and throws in trick axioms like "What a fabulous window dressing!").
He takes advice from his students on how to walk like a man and how to keep his limber wrists in check.
But through the course of the movie Howard himself starts to wonder about his sexual leanings. Ostensibly, this sounds like the onset of the kind of politically correct postulate that can easily ruin a good comedy.
However, in "In & Out" Howard's sexual ambiguity is more a setting for broad comedy that pokes fun at gay stereotypes, show biz and small towns. It has nothing profound or poignant to say -- it's just damn funny.
The movie opens with volleys aimed at the fashionably unwashed pretty boys of Tinsel Town. The ex-student super star played by Matt Dillon, is a graft of Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves and is clearly of the Viper Room set. The movie he wins the Oscar for (deadpan clips are shown during the awards) is one of those forcibly poignant dramas that invariably wins cheap accolades.
Not so coincidentally, it's about gays in the military, and deftly spoofs "Forrest Gump," "Born on the Fourth of July," and "A Few Good Men."
Rudnick's script takes no prisoners in its easy sarcasm and director Frank Oz uses Dillon's undeserving Oscar winner to put Hollywood right in the cross hairs.
But the movie's most hilarious scene comes later, when Howard is waffling about his sexuality while talking to a gay TV reporter who has become his shadow.
Out of nowhere the reporter makes an enormous pass at him that goes on and on and on, with Howard clawing and flailing to get away at first, then suddenly wrapping a leg around this masher in a comedic swoon.
In a brilliant stroke of against-type casting, the reporter is played by Tom Selleck -- which, because of his macho man resumé, multiplies the laugh exponentially.
In fact, the casting of every major role is inspired. Joan Cusack steals every scene she's in as the tormented bride-never-to-be who spends half the movie sulking in her wedding gown. Bob Newhart plays the high school's very nervous principal and Debbie Reynolds is Howard's saccharine-acidic mom.
Even the walk-on characters are a scream. Supermodel (I hate that word) Shalom Harlow plays Dillon's supermodel girlfriend. She has only about three speaking lines, but they're lines like "I've promised Isaac I'd do his show. I have to shower and vomit."
And at the center is Kevin Kline, one of the few actors naturally funny enough to win an Oscar for being silly (in "A Fish Called Wanda").
The foundation of this unrelenting comedy is pretty generic stuff peppered with stock small town characters, and the gay themes are carefully orchestrated to be middle-America friendly.
But "In & Out" doesn't take itself seriously for a moment, which is why the halcyon-happy schmaltz that floats through the movie and floods the last reel is forgivable. Howard doesn't even face much in the way of homophobia, quite simply because it wouldn't be funny.