In & Out (1997)

D: Frank Oz
S: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Tom Selleck

Something is very wrong with this picture. What begins as a fairly wacky and entertaining yarn about what happens when mild-mannered, small-town teacher Kevin Kline is thought to be homosexual (which while it might not strike you as being a particularly funny premise is handled well by director Frank Oz) abruptly transforms mid way into a hamfisted political diatribe when he confesses that he really is (despite providing little evidence to prove it). It is not helped by the fact that from the big turning point to the end, Kline virtually disappears from the narrative and we are instead treated to the reactions of his various friends and family to this terribly serious news. It then climaxes with a laughable display of political correctness and a completely unmotivated twist and it ends without ever convincing us that just because a man is neat, sensitive, and likes Barbara Streisand that he must be gay.

One could dismiss the entire thing as a big self-parodic farce, and it certainly plays that way to a point. Near the beginning the film thoroughly mocks the self-important Hollywood 'message movies' which win Oscars such as Philadelphia and Forrest Gump with a scene depicting a short version of a deliberately laughable gay soldier drama entitled "To Serve and Protect". Kline's former student Matt Dillon receives a little gold statuette for it, and makes a speech which spoofs Tom Hanks' acceptance speech in 1994 (where he 'outs' the dumbfounded Kline). Throughout the first half, the film demonstrates a strong sense of the absurd, and Kline is generally good at carrying it off. But it then becomes altogether less funny as characters suffer tearful introspection and wonder about the meaning of their lives when the premise is dropped and an entirely new one taken on board. Meanwhile the protagonist vanishes, and despite his assurance to us that he is homosexual, we get no real sense of how he has arrived at this conclusion and why he is so certain. Given the kind of hysteria surrounding the issue in politically correct films, it is understandable that he might simply assume himself to be gay by inference, but this is not really the point, and if it is, Oz does not bring it out.

The result is a nasty mess. Audiences will be baffled, not challenged. Straight prejudices are not so much put to the test confused by the film's own fuzzy handling of the issues, and it is doubtful that homosexuals would find it a flattering commentary on contemporary societal attitudes either. It begins by being fun and ends up being boring, which does no justice to a fine cast including support from Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley and Bob Newhart.

If it difficult to discern just what went wrong and where, but the script must certainly be subject to some scrutiny. Like the similarly ill-fated Fierce Creatures, it makes several primary errors in its handling of protagonists and antagonists and the sudden shift in direction half way through is amateurish in the extreme. Director Oz must too be asked some questions. Given the wacky and frequently surreal style of humour in the first half, what prompts the sudden reliance on long dialogue scenes in the latter? Is it all a case of double bluff and is that ending really meant to be a farcical rejoinder to PC attitudes? Perhaps the problem goes to the higher echelons, the mysterious 'them' of Hollywood moneymen and moralists. Did they give the word that a subject as serious as this deserved more serious treatment than it was being given? If so then they obviously didn't see "To Serve and Protect". How a film which pokes a finger in the eye at self importance can suddenly become precisely what it reviles is a mystery.

One thing is certain though: the audience is the victim here. Prospective viewers would do well to bear in mind that despite the hard work of likable performers and a good advertising campaign, this film eventually becomes a downright depressing waste of everyone's time.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.