Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck, Matt Dillon, Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley, Bob Newhart, Gregory Jbara, Shalom Harlow, Shawn Hatosy, Zak Orth, Lauren Ambrose, Alexandra Holden, Lewis J. Stadlen, Deborah Rush
Written by: Paul Rudnick
Directed by: Frank Oz
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and some strong language
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/10/1997

In & Out (1997)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Shades of Gay

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Good-natured, small town high school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) has it pretty good. He loves teaching Shakespeare and poetry, his students adore him, and he's about to be married to longtime fiancée Emily (Joan Cusack). One of his former students, Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) has gone on to become a famous movie star. When Cameron wins an Oscar, he thanks his "gay teacher" on national television, thereby "outing" Howard in front of the whole world. The trouble is that Howard insists he's not gay, or is he? He must decide before his wedding day, and it doesn't help that a handsome, gay entertainment reporter (Tom Selleck) has decided to stay in town to do an in-depth story on the hapless teacher.

The clever screenwriter Paul Rudnick (Addams Family Values, Jeffrey) cooks up a solid script that's both wildly funny and gently satirical. It takes on a potentially explosive topic, the "coming out" of a gay man in a small town, and diffuses it by embracing naïve attitudes toward homosexuality and turning them upside down. Most of the derogatory-sounding humor winds up directed right back at the clueless straight characters, and so the movie winds up happily poking fun at everyone (with the audience comfortably in on the joke).

Eventually it becomes impossible to not root for the sweet, kind hero, appealingly played by a befuddled Kevin Kline. The rest of the cast is fine as well, but Joan Cusack is a standout as Howard's bride-to-be, who slowly, hilariously becomes unraveled over the course of the film (she received an Oscar nomination for her work). Director Frank Oz (Little Shop of Horrors, Death at a Funeral) keeps things bright and cheerful and prevents any meanness from creeping in.

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