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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 Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

Comedies rarely receive the respect they deserve, which is a shame. Critical accolades are generally reserved for verbose, showy dramas about "important" subjects, with comedies dismissed as too frivolous to be considered as art. Hopefully that will change with the delightful screwball film "In And Out". Not only is "In And Out" the funniest film of the year, it's also one of the best. Writer Paul Rudnick ("Jeffrey", "The Addams Family") has concocted a gay fairy tale that manages to deliver admirable messages about community, family values and the importance of being yourself, while maintaining a light, giddy tone and delivering big laughs.

Three days before his wedding, Indiana teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) gets the shock of his life when a former student (Matt Dillon) outs him during an Academy Award acceptance speech. Brackett frantically denies being gay as tabloid reporters turn the small town into a media circus. There's a lot more to the story, but revealing the surprises would spoil some of the fun.

From its opening moments, Rudnick and director Frank Oz establish "In And Out" as a broad farce, and they never let up the pace. Kevin Kline, who won an Oscar for "A Fish Called Wanda", leads the exceptional cast with another outstanding performance. In one extremely funny scene, Kline's Howard Brackett receives a long, unexpected smooch from an unlikely source. During the kiss, Kline uses body language brilliantly to convey a wide range of emotional reactions without ever saying a word. This guy can do more acting with one leg than most performers can do with their whole bodies.

Kline is surrounded by one of the stronger casts in recent memory. Joan Cusack is a riot as Brackett's co-dependent fiancée. Virtually swallowed by a billowy wedding gown, she takes the ditzy character's insecurities and escalating sense of desperation and plays them to great comic effect. As a smarmy tabloid reporter, Tom Selleck gives an assured, almost impish performance, one of the finest of his career. Debbie Reynolds, fresh from "Mother", is focused and funny as Brackett's mom, a determined woman who tells her son, in no uncertain terms, "This wedding MUST happen. I need beauty, flowers and nice placemats. It's like heroin". Wilford Brimley and Bob Newhart give sturdy supporting performances, and Matt Dillon has a great time as Cameron Drake, a vacuous pretty boy film star who seems like a cross between Brad Pitt and Luke Perry.

Complaints about "In And Out" are bound to surface. Some fundamentalist Christians will condemn the film as an elaborate piece of gay-positive propaganda, while certain uptight gays and lesbians will claim the film plays off homosexual stereotypes. What's interesting is that both statements are essentially true. "In And Out" uses humor, heartland imagery, and a musical score straight out of "Hoosiers" to create a sympathetic atmosphere for its gay-positive message. The film is an extremely effective piece of propaganda and that's a good thing. The "subversive" message of "In And Out" is that being gay is no big thing, that real communities will accept and embrace their gay brothers and sisters and eventually wonder why there was ever a fuss in the first place. Rudnick's agenda is to send audiences out of the theater with smiles on their faces and minds a little more open. We can certainly use more propaganda like that.

As far as playing off gay stereotypes, "In And Out" does it often and well. A number of jokes work off the common perception of gay men as somewhat prissy neat freaks who dress impeccably and love Streisand, musicals and poetry. But the film doesn't stop there. In the world of "In And Out", everyone is a stereotype. Reporters are opportunistic jackals, small-town folks are sweet, wide-eyed yokels, fashion models are bulimic bimbos, and actors are self-absorbed boobs. Characters are painted with broad strokes in farces, that's simply the nature of the beast. Hopefully, those on the far left and right will settle down and enjoy the film's great humor and enormous good will.

Along with its wonderful performances and pacing, "In And Out" boasts an razor-sharp script, bursting with as many pop culture references as a dozen episodes of "The Simpsons". In fact, "In And Out" plays a bit like a big-screen sitcom. That's just another part of Rudnick and company's canny approach. Using familiar images and a screwball comedy format, they have created the first wholesome, all-American, family values film about gays. "In And Out" is one comedy that truly deserves respect.

Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott

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