With honesty comes energy. The idea that being yourself makes life more fulfilling is given amusing treatment in the good time In & Out, about a man forced by unique events to become honest with himself.
It opens with Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda) as Howard Brackett, an English teacher in Greenleaf, Ind. who’s about to marry Elaine (Joan Cusack), his fiancée for three years. A former student of Brackett’s (Matt Dillon, having a good time parodying both Brad Pitt and Forrest Gump) wins an Oscar for playing a court-martialed gay soldier, and in his acceptance speech thanks his gay role model: Howard Brackett. Brackett is as surprised as everyone else by this worldwide outing, and launches into vigorous assertions of flaming heterosexuality as the town grows a little tense.
As the media (including Tom Selleck, as an entertainment reporter sympathetic to Brackett’s plight) descend to cover this breaking news, Brackett starts to question whether he’s been totally open with himself. Halfway through the film, at his own wedding, he finally admits what his personal truth is, and his life gets still more complicated.
The movie has a good time tweaking stereotypes about lawyers, what films get Oscars, the stupid questions asked in media frenzies and the bigger question of whether all gay men dance, color-coordinate and adore Barbra Streisand.
The script, which probably was a hoot to read, is by screenwriter and playwright Paul Rudnick, who in his best plays can be the definition of “wickedly funny”; his best-known pop culture contribution is the dialogue in both Addams Family movies. And director Frank Oz – yes, the one from The Muppets – has pulled together a strong, ironic and funny cast.
The film doesn’t quite have the right rhythm for screwball comedy – the stately wedding ceremony almost brings the movie to a halt – though there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, at least one funny gasp-inducer involving Selleck, and this real roaring highlight:
Brackett, in his desperate attempt to Be A Real (Heterosexual) Man, digs out and listens to a belligerent self-help tape titled “Exploring Your Masculinity.” The intense baritone voice on the tape barks at him the proper ways to swear, adjust himself and resist the urge to dance: as disco pulses, the voice commands, “Real men do not dance! They work. They drink. They have bad backs. They do not dance!” But here Brackett finally cuts loose, and starts to learn that there is more than one way to Be A Real Man.
The film adds up to a pleasure. Selleck is a happy surprise, the funny and intense Cusack is a walking visual gag in her wedding dress, Bob Newhart in his small role always looks on the verge of exploding, and the finale is almost a Capra ending…with a twist. (The scene uses the word “influence” a lot. Think of how Jimmy Stewart “influenced” his world in It’s A Wonderful Life and you’ll better understand what happens.)
In & Out is a big I-just-gotta-be-me fest that is a lot of fun. To tweak the Gloria Gaynor* disco song used in the film, It Will Survive.
* In my original review, I mis-identified the singer as Donna Summer. I fail at disco, but c'mon, I was maybe 5 when that was a hit.