In & Out is only fourteen years old, but it feels like a relic from a different era. The film features cassette tapes, rotary phones, and the firm belief that appreciation of Barbara Streisand appreciation is tightly correlated with homosexuality.
The premise is that a young Hollywood actor wins an Academy Award for playing a gay character, and in his acceptance speech he thanks his high school English teacher Howard Brackett, who taught him to love theater. “And he’s gay.”
This is news to the English teacher, and the woman he’s set to marry in five days:
Everyone in the small Indiana community promptly freaks out, either over the employment of a possibly-gay dude at a public high school, or the imminent wedding of a possibly-gay dude to a ladyperson. Or, in the case of the possibly-gay dude in question, over his possible-gayness.
Perplexingly, this seems to be the first time that the possibility of Howard being gay has occurred to anyone, including Howard. But it adds up to them once they consider the evidence: likes poetry and Barbara Streisand, kind of prissy, smart, well-dressed, really clean, drama club, rides a bicycle, has been engaged three years without boffing his fiancée. I’m really only moved by the last one, but I’m not in the movie.
Meanwhile, Tom Selleck (or what is left of Tom Selleck without the mustache) leads an invading media circus who pepper Howard with questions like, “What do you think about gays in the space program?” and “Do you know Ellen?” Mustache-Free Tom Selleck comes out to Howard, and then kisses him to help him embrace his sexuality. This strikes me as not too far off from when people say that lesbians just need a good dicking.
Regardless: it works. Howard leaves poor Emily at the altar after saying “I’m gay” instead of “I do.” Joan Cusack gets her Oscar clip by challenging him with, “was there, oh, ANY OTHER TIME YOU MIGHT HAVE TOLD ME THIS?”
This movie earned Joan Cusack her second Oscar nomination for essentially playing herself. That’s not a dig. I’m reminded of dialogue from early in the film: “I hope that nice Sally Field wins.” “But she’s not nominated, dear.” “Even so!” That’s how I feel about Joan Cusack. She’s so funny she should win an Oscar for putting on pants in the morning.
Anyway, the movie kind of falls apart at this point. There’s the worst wanna-Capra ending since the Miracle on 34th Street remake, and a little coda where Howard’s parents hopefully make use of his wedding deposits by renewing their vows. But nothing about how Howard’s life may or may not change now that he’s finally realized he’s gay well into his adult life.
Honestly, I think In & Out would be more interesting if Howard were straight, fighting to be who he really is: a guy who loves Shakespeare and tucked in shirts and having sex with women. As it stands, because the movie is so PG-13-for-language sexless, it comes across as though Howard’s sexuality really is determined by his fondness for Barbara Streisand. The whole thing comes across as incredibly gender normative, especially for a movie that I think is patting itself on the back for championing The Gays. Or maybe a straight Howard would have felt like a cop-out. It’s impossible to know what might have been.
So I’ll conclude by asking you to help me sort out another mystery: