Frank Oz’ 1997 romantic comedy “In & Out” is a bit of a curiosity, simultaneously ahead of and firmly of its time. A frothy, light-hearted comedy about homosexuality and coming out was a bold move then but now…well, now it’s hard to see it being made at all.
When Midwestern high school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is outed as gay during an Oscar acceptance speech by a former student, his whole life is thrown into question, not to mention his career and impending marriage to fiancée Emily (Joan Cusack).
Despite being rooted in a more naïve and less ready to be outraged mind-set, the film is a lot of fun. Kline and Cusack give great performances as the betrothed couple whose lives are turned upside down by the revelation (Cusack snagged a best supporting actress nomination for the role) and there’s great support from movie veterans Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley and Bob Newhart. There’s also Tom Selleck – sadly sans moustache – as gay reporter Peter Molloy, determined to follow Howard’s story no matter what.
The film walks a fine line between rejecting and exploiting tired gay stereotypes and while it aims for a cosy Frank Capra-esque style comedy, it’s clumsy at best when viewed through modern eyes. Homophobia is soft-peddled throughout the film, with the town’s discomfort being exhibited through befuddlement and gossip rather than out and out hostility but you really can’t see the involuntary outing of a person being an acceptable basis for a comedy film being made today, nor the town’s reaction being tolerated in such an ‘aw shucks, folks is just folks’ way. Indeed the key theme of the film seems to be that to be closeted is somehow dishonest and that the knowledge of someone’s sexuality should be a matter of public knowledge. Kline’s involuntary revelation even prompts others in the community to unburden themselves of their own long held secrets and its universally shown to be a good thing to be ‘out and proud’ whatever your secret was but in the current climate of incendiary gender and sexual politics it ends up feeling uncomfortable, much like the ten second kiss between Kline and Selleck. As chaste now as it was provocative back then, it functions like a reverse “Superman II” plot device as Howard’s sexuality is revived by what in today’s more sensitive society would probably be considered sexual harassment.
It’s funny and sweet and – hackneyed gay tropes aside – as clichéd as you’d expect from a studio romantic comedy. It isn’t trying to make any points other than people should be free to be whoever they want to be but it’s absolutely not designed for today’s ready to be offended by anything and everything culture.