IN & OUT (1998) – Coming out was never so funny


After I attended a screening of In & Out, I went to a local pizza joint, where I ran into a woman whom I’d seen at the screening. I asked the woman for her opinion of the movie, and she launched into a diatribe about how Hollywood movies promote homosexuality. That’s kind of sad, because I think the movie isn’t so much about promoting a lifestyle (whatever that means) as being true to yourself.

In & Out is loosely based upon Tom Hanks’s first Oscar acceptance speech, where he thanked a gay drama teacher of his. In real life, the teacher was already out of the proverbial closet. In In & Out, Kevin Kline plays Howard Brackett, a teacher who’s a week away from getting married to a fellow teacher (Joan Cusack). Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon), an actor and former student of Brackett’s, blurts out Brackett’s gayness during his own Oscar acceptance speech, turning Brackett into the latest media celebrity.

The movie is probably a gay man’s dream of the perfect “outing.” (The screenwriter, Paul Rudnick, is a gay playwright.) That said, why shouldn’t it happen this way? Everyone in Howard’s life has trouble accepting the news, but in the end, they continue to accept him. Along the way are two riotous scenes: one where Howard listens to a self-help masculinity tape and ends up boogeying the night away, and another where Howard is forced to confront his conscience in the form of a Hollywood TV reporter (Tom Selleck).

The movie starts out as a very fey comedy along the lines of The Birdcage (which, unlike most of America, I despised). But the further along it goes, the better and better it gets. Frank Oz, no slouch in the directing department (Little Shop of Horrors, What About Bob?), finds just the right tone for the movie — not too preachy, not too farcical. Rudnick’s dialogue has the delicious feeling of saying a lot of things that should be said, about homosexuality and other topics.

And what a stellar cast. Cusack and Dillon never make a wrong move. Bob Newhart (as Howard’s flustered principal) and Selleck have probably never been better in a movie. And Kevin Kline’s physicality is put to best use here, particularly in that dance scene. I don’t know how gays and/or uptight types will find his performance, but I found it perfectly believable and wonderful.

You don’t have to agree with the viewpoint of In & Out to enjoy it. Towards the end of the movie, everyone in it “comes out” in one sense or another. The only lifestyle the movie seems to be promoting is honesty. Of course, that makes some people uncomfortable, too.