March 13, 2010

A passionate defense of In & Out.

I love Kevin Kline.

I love Dave. I love A Fish Called Wanda and Wild Wild West. I even love his cameo in Definitely, Maybe, one of the most underrated rom coms of the 2000's.

And I really, really love In & Out. I remember seeing it with my entire family when I was 12, and although I had to ask my dad what "pussy boy" meant afterward, I liked it a lot more than a little kid probably should. As I told my roommate while we watched it last night, it's the perfect "light comedy," except that this particular example comes equipped with a message.

If you haven't seen it, a quick summation: Kevin Kline is an effeminate English teacher who a young actor (played by Matt Dillon) unexpectedly outs during the Academy Awards. He struggles to deal with the media's descent on his quaint town, including a mustache-less Tom Selleck, who is openly gay and eventually kisses him. At his wedding to Joan Cusack, Kline finally admits that he's gay, and after a while, his family and the town come to terms with it. He then presumably has off-screen sex with Selleck, that lucky bastard.

Considering that gay rights are still hotly debated in 2010, it's no surprise that the movie, a 1997 release, takes a delicate approach to homosexuality. No one seems to have any idea what being gay actually means, and no one really thinks to ask. Stereotypical responses ensue, including "young men covering their genitals when the possibly gay man enters the locker room" and "town secretly tries to get gay teacher fired for fear that his gayness will corrupt the impressionable children."

But that's OK, because In & Out knows its limits. In a way, it's kind of like a period piece. In 1997, unless you had a good reason, you probably didn't spend too much time thinking about homosexuality. And I don't doubt that many people from that era (ugh, "era"; as if it was the Roaring Twenties or the 60's) reacted in such an awkward way towards gay people, partially because people still do now. Maybe not in such a silly, cinematic fashion, but probably close to it. But the genius behind In & Out is that this light comedy takes a serious, then-unexplored issue and injects a dash of...light comedy, and that makes it a lot easier to ignore the occasional stupid scene or inane response to Dillon's revelation.

But the real reason we, the audience, are willing to accept this kind of necessary ignorance is the movie's wonderful cast. Kline is perfect as the closeted teacher, Cusack got an Academy Award nomination as his screeching fiancée and Selleck is even better as the overeager reporter. One can only wonder why Magnum P.I. shaved for this movie; perhaps Kline demanded it, as he otherwise foresaw his upper lip being constantly tickled during their kiss.

And you can't say enough about Bob Newhart's performance as the principal. The king of seemingly unintentional comedy, a comedy rookie might watch In & Out and think Newhart was an actual bumbling idiot, but as Newhart has said in the past, "that stammer bought me a house in Beverly Hills." The movie plays to his strengths as much as anybody's, and it all pays off in the end credits. Kline jumps behind Newhart in a conga line, and the look on the principal's face when he realizes who is grabbing onto his ass is priceless. Thank God he survived the three hours of air he was limited to during the 2006 Emmys.

Although it chooses to consciously ignore the deeper issues behind closeted homosexuality, the movie does have a touching ending. Dillon arrives to right the small wrongs he's caused, and with the full-fledged support of a Best Actor winner (celebrities: is there anything they can't do?), the town rallies behind Kline and his preference for penis. It's not very deep, but there's some truth there -- the love of friends and family can get you through a whole lot. Even though real life doesn't always come with so much unconditional love, when Debbie Reynolds and Wilford Brimley's mustache are your parents, we realize that sometimes it can.

And that's a great message to attach to this light comedy. That honesty can work out in the end, that being true to yourself is key to happiness, and that you have to trust in those you care about to care about you. In & Out may leave a lot...well, out, and what it brings to the table is nothing groundbreaking. But for a late 90's, homosexuality-themed comedy that offers some sweetness and actually induces laughter, what more can you ask for?

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