In & Out
Directed by Frank Oz. Starring Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon, Debbie Reynolds. (1997, PG-13, 92 min.)
REVIEWED By Russell Smith, Fri., Sept. 19, 1997
Anyone who claims to know the formula for movie comedy success is, almost by definition, a liar. But I'd venture that one element common to most great comic filmmaking is the exhilaration of watching order slowly and inexorably unravel. Grasping that principle is only half the battle, though. The other is making that descent into madness seem spontaneous, and this is where In & Out succeeds with a seat-of-the-pants audacity that makes it one of the year's funniest films to date. A dynamite cast certainly gives director Oz (Little Shop of Horrors, What About Bob?) a leg up on his competition but then, as Ready to Wear and Fierce Creatures remind us, great personnel guarantees nothing. The real electricity here emanates from a fresh, recklessly inventive script by Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey, Addams Family Values) and a performance by Kline which confirms his status as one of the more remarkable comic acting talents of his generation. Kline plays Howard Brackett, a small-town English teacher whose Oscar-winning former student (Dillon) lauds him on national TV as a brilliant teacher who happens to be homosexual. The only cloud hanging over this glorious moment in gay history is that Brackett not only professes to be 100% straight but is mere days away from wedding his longtime girlfriend, Emily (Cusack). No matter; the town is soon teeming with TV camera crews and journalists, the most obnoxious of whom is down-in-the-Nielsens gossip hound Pete Malloy (Selleck). Suddenly, everyone from Emily to Howard's students to his beer-drinking buddies starts finding deeper significance in the star teacher's “prissy” mannerisms, immaculate grooming, and Barbra Streisand fetish. Aghast, he responds with a rigorous program of masculine reprogramming, a wagon from which he repeatedly tumbles in a series of uproarious scenes that demonstrate Kline's stone genius for physical comedy. Cusack matches Kline's manic brilliance with an all-stops-out performance as the emotionally discombobulated fiancée. Watching her, pigface drunk and decked out in her wedding dress, roll around like a white organza dust kitten in a beer joint parking lot is, to invoke the timeless critical cliché, worth the price of admission. As in Jeffrey, Rudnick's approach to screenwriting is a bit gimmicky and built around hit-or-miss payoff moments. But with Kline, Cusack, Dillon, and Reynolds (as Howard's mom) all buying completely into his vision and embellishing it with their own instinctive flair, the duff scenes were far outnumbered by ones that had me on the verge of hyperventilation from laughter. True, many of the gags build upon classical gay stereotypes, but in context, they actually support a message of good-natured tolerance. Aspiring Republican politico Selleck even trashes his family-values capital by initiating one of the lustiest (and funniest) male-male kissing scenes in mainstream film history. My advice: Go; see; laugh yourself silly. Repeat.