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In & Out

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: In & Out

Starring: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack
Director: Frank Oz
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 92 Minutes
Release Date: September 1997
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Tom Selleck, Debbie Reynolds, Matt Dillon, Bob Newhart

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When Tom Hanks accepted his umpteenth Oscar, he thanked his high-school drama teacher. This event is the inspiration behind "In and Out," a comedy that throughout has the signature of its world-class comic writer, Paul Rudnick. "In and Out" is a sit-com, but a sit-com of a high order. Its vignettes sends up popular American traditions of masculinity, the gay life style, staid high-school principals, hormone-flooded teens, Oscar ceremonies, small-town gossips, and, best-of-all the timely category of sleazy tabloid journalists. Its choice moment occurs about two-thirds into the film as English teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is taking his marriage vows with his long-time fiance, Emily Montgomery (Joan Cusack). That surprising moment may unfortunately be given away by some critics: if you're reading reviews, then, you'd best skip over their plot synopses.

At one time, the topic of homosexuality was virtually taboo in the entertainment media. In the nineties, however, it has become virtually a mainstay of prime-time TV, which militates against this film's value as a wholly original or shocking piece. By awarding the movie a PG-13 rating, the MPAA signals that even kids can be freely welcomed into a tale which uses the F word only once--thereby giving the word great farcical punch.

Once you accept the idea that a forty-year old man would entertain an unconsummated engagement of three years, and that an ultra-cool actor would thank his gay English teacher at an academy awards celebration, you'll roll with the jabs and barbs that materialize from its various vignettes.

We're introduced to Howard Brackett in the classroom of his small-town Indiana high school where he appears with a butterfly-image bow tie, neat attire, and clean-shaven countenance. He is obviously the school's most popular pedagogue, coaching the track team after classroom hours, a situation which shocks the faculty, students and in fact the whole town of Greenleaf when Brad Pitt lookalike Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) announces to an audience of hundreds of millions that his favorite teacher is gay. But the folks who are close to Howard are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since, after all, he is getting married in a few days and his mom, Berniece Brackett (Debby Reynolds), is dedicated to bringing off the momentous event even if his son is gay.

The performer to watch this time around is Tom Selleck, playing against type as Peter Malloy, a TV tabloid journalist, whose interest in the scandal is driven by more than a desire to improve his ratings. Manly enough in appearance, he seems to be writer Paul Rudnick's raisonneur, trumpeting to all that there is no such thing as a typical homosexual. Announcing his predilection for his own gender, Malloy plants a sustained kiss on Howard's shocked lips in a scene which might have caused a 1950s audience to avert to their eyes.

Contrived though some of the scenes may be, "In and Out" is superior fare with its belly-laugh one-liners, its subtly woven subtext about the absolute acceptability of homosexuality, and its extraordinary good acting. With the able assistance of director Frank Oz, Joan Cusack comes across as a master of comic timing, who draws howls from the audience with her self-deprecatory comments, her wide-eyed surprise when she is sexually approached by her fiance, and her self-pity at having to lose seventy-five pounds to look good on her wedding day. Matt Dillon, usually cast in serious roles, stands out as the nation's heartthrob and the catalyst behind the ninety minutes of frenzy. He allows the supporting performers he's with to have their moments of fame, such as his scrawny super-model girl friend Sonya (Shalom Harlow), who announces that to get ready for an event she has to "take a shower and vomit."

"In and Out" was photographed on Long Island, which stands in for small-town Indiana, conveying a tightly-knit community which gets more than its share of excitement when reporters and paparazzi descend to exploit a story that would be virtually ignored were it to take place in New York or San Francisco. "In and Out," is a sendup of stereotypes, is bereft of serious undertones and so is lacking the resonance of Paul Rudnick's "Jeffrey." Rudnick, best known to hundreds of thousands of readers of "Premiere" magazine for his monthly pseudonymous column, is that rare writer who can work with an overused concept and make it work heartily. The high-spirited film is capped by a joyous musical moment as the entire cast discos to the beat of "Macho Man."

Copyright 1997 Harvey Karten

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