Still from 1997's "In and Out."

In and Out July 12, 2017        

When we first meet him, he’s still very much keeping his true sexuality securely locked away: He’s engaged to be married to Emily (a fantastic, Oscar-nominated Joan Cusack), a fellow teacher who recently lost 75 pounds. Their wedding is in a few days. We discover the engagement period has lasted for a number of years and that the two have never slept together. Brackett, of course, downplays this.

 

But things are about to change. The wedding — and graduation — also coincide with the year’s Academy Awards, where one of Brackett’s former students, the beloved Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon), is favored to win the prize for best actor. We watch as townsfolk giddily huddle around their television sets, their pulses quickening when the category is announced.

 

A prolonged money clip is played, where we see Drake humorously portraying a homosexual soldier in would-be war weeper “To Serve and Protect.” Unsurprisingly, his name is announced. His speech is hammy, run-of-the-mill. Our protagonist even gets a shoutout. “I should thank someone else,” he emotes. “Someone who's really been there ... to Howard Brackett from Greenleaf, Indiana!”

 

Everyone rejoices. But there’s a kicker. After name-dropping his hometown, Drake trails off, adding “… and he's gay. I've decided to dedicate this whole night to a great, gay teacher. Mr. Brackett, we won!” 

 

The cameras cut to the faces of the many inhabitants of Greenleaf. No one is necessarily disgusted, as we might expect from a small Southern outfit. They’re just flummoxed. A universally liked teacher who’s getting married in a few days is gay? Could it really be? At first, Brackett is horrified, going through the motions of reassurance even when unprompted. News reporters from around the country try to get a scoop, overwhelming him. He shakes his head over and over again. He’s straight!

 

But then he begins to understand that maybe this is a chance for him to break free from the chains of the grand masquerade that is his existence. He attempts to ensure that he really and truly is ready to make the transition into what’s going to become his new life. He tries to seduce Emily, but cannot bring himself to go through with it. In one of the film’s more tone deaf moments, he listens to a tape produced to test males questioning their masculinity, but fails the moment disco music starts playing through the speakers. 

 

His love for Barbra Streisand is a recurring joke, to top it all off: on separate occasions, he is able to name her eighth album by heart, is given the soundtrack for Funny Girl (1968) as a gift at his bachelor party, and is instantaneously pissed off when someone suggests that the singer and actress was too old to play the lead in Yentl (1983). “Fuck Barbra Streisand, and you!” Emily howls later in the film.

 

Stereotypes abound with frequency, but oddly none really offend. Because In and Out is centrally a farce and is written by Paul Rudnick, gay himself, it recognizes clichés, heightens them, but squishes the heterosexual aggression often associated with them and finds the jocularity within them. The humor is so silly it comes off as a better-than-usual sitcom. Laughs that don’t stick have less to do with offensiveness and more with the general eye rolls that come with a gag that doesn’t work.

 

There are a couple of those moments, from that bizarre masculinity tape sequence to the slightly charming, slightly off-putting finale that sees a large number of Greenleaf residents shouting “I’m gay!” to support Brackett after they find out he faced professional discrimination after coming out. 

 

But in a film so likable and witty, and so conscious of normalizing homosexuality for a predominantly heterosexual audience, the wrongs done by In and Out are forgivable — and minimal. Kline is especially good, believable and sensitive in a role that could easily be played with caricatured enthusiasm. And Dillon, not nearly in enough of the film, steals every scene he’s in as an actor not unlike someone Brad Pitt, playing well-intentioned but nonetheless oblivious with comedic perfection.

 

The movie was inspired by Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech after winning the Academy Award for his performance as a professionally discriminated, AIDS afflicted lawyer in Philadelphia (1993). During the speech, he thanked two gay Americans, his former classmate and his former drama teacher, with tears in his eyes. Fortunately, both were asked permission to be publicly outed before the broadcast. But In and Out is a funny romp that sends up a what-if scenario without hitting too many false notes. Still standing as one of the few mainstream comedies focused on a gay character, the film has aged well, managing to win us over 20 years later with its warm humor and its wry

performances.  B+

DIRECTED BY

Frank Oz

 

STARRING

Kevin Kline

Joan Cusack

Matt Dillon

Tom Selleck

Debbie Reynolds

Wilford Brimley

Shalom Harlow

Bob Newhart

 

RATED

PG-13

 

RELEASED IN

1997

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 32 Mins.

T

he protagonist of Frank Oz’s In and Out (1997), 30-something drama teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline), has undoubtedly always known he’s gay. He's just never really taken the time to come to terms with that fact. Because he’s lived in a tiny Indiana town his entire life, with most of the population straight and white, he’s never felt comfortable accepting his sexuality. Passing off as someone he isn’t has been easier specifically because sticking to the status quo is always much more pleasant than trying to mix things up.