Mid-Day Mini ~ In & Out

in_and_out

The Facts:

Synopsis: A midwestern teacher questions his sexuality after a former student makes a comment about him at the Academy Awards.

Stars: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon, Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley, Bob Newhart, Gregory Jbara, Shaw Hatosy, Zak Orth, Lauren Ambrose, Alexandra Holden

Director: Frank Oz

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: Here’s a case of a movie with a preview and a set-up that works better than the film itself.  The premise of a small town teacher being outed at a national level by a former student nearly on the eve of his wedding has comic mileage written all over it.  The problem is the movie itself is so silly, so frustrating, so not satisfying that it trumps any positivity you had for the film going in.  Though I’ve tried on more than one occasion to find some appreciation for In & Out since it was released in 1997 the appeal of this movie still escapes me.

Maybe it’s because the movie takes place in what could best be described as an alternate reality…an oddball version of the modern world as we know it.  That’s not entirely by accident, I don’t think, but is a by-product of writer Paul Rudnick’s kooky style that may work for some films (Jeffrey, The Addams Family) but really fail him when going for a more (ahem) straight-forward tale.

Hey, this is the movies so there’s something to be said for some suspension of disbelief but In & Out pushes the line too far…starting with an Oscar ceremony that defies description.  Rudnick is known for his playful skewering of Hollywood and its vain nature under his pseudonym Libby Gelman-Waxner and he goes for broke in showcasing Hollywood’s biggest night as a name-dropping, in-joke telling, overblown affair.

When mega star (and judging from the clips mega-untalented) Cameron Drake (Dillon) outs his high school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) when he accepts his Best Actor Oscar it sends Howard’s small town life into chaos as the gossip hungry media descend on his quaint town just as he’s preparing to be married to his seriously patient fiancé (Cusack, Working Girl).  A beloved teacher and member of the community, everyone seems to turn their back on Howard when the gay rumors start flying.

This is what really makes me mad about the movie.  Yes, I see that Rudnick is trying to make a point about acceptance but having an entire town turn into ignorant cartoons (“Did this Barbra Streisand do something to you?”) is icky to watch.  Even if this was released in 1997, I think the world was a little farther along in acceptance at that time.  The way that this tight-knit community cold shoulders Howard is not funny, it’s unsettling.

To be fair, the film does have a few nice moments…notably Cusack’s profanity laced tirade late in the film that probably earned her her Oscar nomination.  There’s also a too short scene between the older women of the town (including Debbie Reynolds as Kline’s mother) discussing some of their secrets they haven’t shared.  While it’s nice to see rugged star Tom Selleck play against type, there’s no explanation as to why his Hollywood reporter character is granted access to film anywhere he pleases…including Howard’s wedding and a graduation ceremony that he’d have no business being at.

The whole affair as directed by Frank Oz is merely in service to Rudnick’s clumsily executed plot that puts people where they need to be for no other reason than it’s what Rudnick wanted.  There are some serious continuity problems as it relates to cross country travel and the movie seems to exist without any observance of days of the week.

Even with likable lead Kline and a few sly turns by a cast packed with trusted character actors, this film stinks…though I’ve tried to wake up and smell the roses a few times the smell of failed opportunity is still all over the movie.

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