Film Review: Look who's just been outed...
In & Out
Directed by Frank Oz.
Written by Paul Rudnick.
Starring Kevin Kline, Matt Dillon, Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley, Bob Newhart, and Tom Selleck.By Vladimir Zelevinsky
When Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay AIDS victim in the 1993 movie Philadelphia, in his acceptance speech he thanked the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the director, co-stars, and the other usual suspects - plus one unusual one: his gay high school teacher.
In the first ten minutes of In & Out, actor Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon), a Brad Pitt look-alike, wins an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay soldier in a (fictional, of course) movie "To Serve and Protect" (which is a rather sharp parody of Forest Gump, to reinforce the Hanks reference). Drake thanks the usual suspects - and his gay high school teacher. But this teacher, Howard Brackett (Hanks' character in Philadelphia is named Andrew Beckett), played by Kevin Kline, insists he isn't gay. He's engaged and is about to be married, teaches English in a local high school in a small rural town, and is as much shocked as anyone else, perhaps more, to hear himself outed in front of billions.
Thus Philadelphia did beget In & Out, and in more senses than one. Four years passed between these two movies, and what a change - Philadelphia was a serious drama, heavy-handed and moralizing. If not for the new gay angle (first ever major studio picture about homosexuals) and a brilliant acting job by Hanks, it would have been quite mediocre. In & Out, on the other hand, is a light and breezy (sometimes too much so) satirical comedy.
While both movies cover approximately the same ground, In & Out doesn't take itself as seriously as Philadelphia. But it also does a much better job. Of course, the times did change - four years ago, they wouldn't have shown a gay kiss on screen. And not only is the kiss in the open, it also lasts for quite some time and happens to be quite hilarious. Next year, watch for the MTV movie award for the best kiss - I bet this one will take it home.
And this movie is not as much about being gay (or not gay, as the case might be) - it is a broad satire, which doesn't miss a chance to take a poke at whatever deserves one, be it movies, male bonding, Steven Seagal's acting range, media, Richard Simmons' exercise tapes, weddings, Barbara Streisand, dieting, supermodels, et cetera, ad infinitum - and most of these are very funny. In fact, a good deal of the movie is laugh-out-loud funny.
If only In & Out had a director with more of an edge and a sharper wit to match the script. Frank Oz does a adequate job at getting good performances (Kline is brilliant, and most of the supporting cast is also very good), but he fails to create any kind of distinct mood (although some of it can be blamed on the particularly bland music score), and the light mood created in many scenes dilutes the satire. The few attempts at seriousness and tugging at the heartstrings fail completely.
And this is the reason why In & Out, on the whole, works better than Philadelphia did. The comedy doesn't try to persuade us that gays are (surprise) people too; it takes this fact for granted, and knows the audience does as well. If people laugh at something, they are comfortable with it. So, come in, make yourself comfortable, and have a good time.