In & Out (1997)

16 Feb

1852104

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“In & Out” stars Kevin Kline as a high school English teacher who is neatly-dressed, reads Shakespeare, watches Barbra Streisand movies, and is somewhat of a wimp. Those four traits are thrown in the way of his masculinity when everyone in the movie thinks he’s a homosexual.

It begins as Kline’s character Howard and his fiancée Emily (Joan Cusack) are watching the Oscars, rooting for one of their former students, who is one of the Best Actor nominees. He’s apparently so successful that Glenn Close spends so much time talking about how great he is, and then just says the other actors’ names as if they’re not important. (By the way, who would have thought Steven Seagal would be nominated alongside Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, and Michael Douglas? Nice joke, though.)

Anyway, the actor—a goof named Cameron Drake, played by Matt Dillon—wins the Academy Award for playing a gay soldier, and in his speech dedicates it to Howard, “who is gay.” This comes as shocking news to everyone, including his fiancée, his parents (Wilford Brimley and Debbie Reynolds), his students, and the high school principal (Bob Newhart). But Howard keeps telling everyone that he isn’t gay. His students want to believe him, but they consider the facts about his personality and aren’t so sure. He hasn’t even made love to his fiancée in the three years they’ve been engaged—even the Parish priest he goes to believes he’s gay. The premise may sound like dark-comic indie-crowd fare, but “In & Out” is a jolly PG-13 mainstream comedy that’s about as innocent as it can get, given its subject matter. The result is a mostly funny and well-acted, though flawed, comedy.

When Kevin Kline turned into Jim Carrey is beyond me, though I suppose winning the Oscar for his nutty character in 1988’s “A Fish Called Wanda” helped a lot. The movie’s funniest scene is when he proves his masculinity to himself by playing a self-help tape, but can’t resist those distracting showtunes thrown in as tricks. The tape shouts back as if it’s talking right at him. Kline’s very funny here. He’s well-suited with Joan Cusack as his fiancée who has lost about 75 pounds working out to Richard Simmons’ workout videos, and now feels her world falling apart when she thinks she doesn’t know as much about Howard as she thought.

In a movie that has a solid cast and interesting character development (including Matt Dillon as the actor, who had no intention of ruining Howard’s life and whose intentions are revealed later), the best performance in the movie goes to Tom Selleck as a celebrity gossip TV journalist who believes Howard is gay and arrives to this small town in Indiana to make a documentary about his eventual coming-out. Selleck is perfect in his role—effectively convincing throughout as this dedicated TV personality out to get the real story. There’s not a moment when he steers wrong.

“In & Out” has humor and heart, but what didn’t work for me was the ending. It bogs down into a cornball confrontation that interrupts a high school graduation ceremony to allow Howard to win the people’s respect again. It involves everyone shouting “I’m gay” to get at the principal, who just can’t find a good explanation for firing Howard other than he’s gay. It was too uplifting that it wound up as just cloying. But give the scene credit for not taking place in a courtroom.

There are a few slight problems such as the cheesy feel-good music that tells you what to feel when the actors are doing a well-enough job of that. And also, I could see a few things coming a mile away. But what I couldn’t see coming were the movie’s best jokes—a bachelor party that goes unexpectedly, a hilarious snap at Barbra Streisand, that self-help tape scene I mentioned above, and some terrific one-liners. All of the actors are solid, the writing is sharp, and the movie has an overall positive feel to its subject matter. “In & Out” is a certified crowd pleaser.

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