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Festivale online magazine, January, 1998 film reviews

In & Out

A schoolteacher is outed... or is he?

This is a film about stereotypes and the way people react to them; not just gay stereotypes, but stereotypes of sex, age and small country towns.

Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is an English teacher in the idyllic mother-and-apple-pie small town of Greenleaf, Indiana. It’s folksy, clean and charming... even the teenagers are likeable. But into this bliss drops a bombshell. Mere days before Howard is to wed fellow teacher Emily Montgomery (Joan Cusack) after an unusually long engagement, Hollywood star and former Greenleaf High graduate Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) announces at the Oscars ceremony that Brackett is gay.

Movie Poster, In and Out, Festivale film review

The local townsfolk are stunned. People question him on the phone, in the street, in class, and the national media descends on the town in pursuit of a hot story. Everyone has an interest, including his mother (Debbie Reynolds) who declares she wouldn’t mind him being gay as long as she gets the wedding she’s been dreaming of. Howard himself is stunned by the supposed revelation and embarks on a journey of self-discovery that questions what it means to be a “real man” in America. Along the way there are some amusing scenes, particularly one involving a self-help tape of the “discovering your inner man” variety.
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All the gay stereotypes are put into play here, but in a light vein rather than a deep examination. Howard is well-spoken, rides a bike, likes Shakespeare and - the real clincher - adores Barbra Streisand, so he must be gay, right? To add to the stereotypes populating Greenleaf, we have the neurotic fiancee Emily who’s lost 25 pounds so she can be “beautiful” and squeeze into her wedding dress, the mother to whom weddings are like heroin, and the supermodel girlfriend (Shalom Harlow) of Drake who’s keen on regurgitation to keep her figure.

Kline’s performance is impressive, creating a very likeable character whose doubt, fear and confusion is very clearly felt by the audience. Howard is obviously a good teacher and the viewer is on his side throughout his ordeal. Kline is ably assisted in his role by Tom Selleck playing Peter Malloy, the big-town TV journalist who starts off as an enemy but becomes an ally. On the debit side, Dillon is unconvincing as the Ethan Hawke lookalike Drake, and Harlow is just embarrassing in her role.

It’s a film set in a different reality to ours, a place painted with broader strokes than our complicated world. This first becomes clear when we see an excerpt from Drake’s “Oscar-winning” performance as a gay soldier in a war movie. It’s simply appalling, but the audience applauds wildly as he gets the Oscar (R). When the media descends on Greenleaf, its behaviour is even odder than usual... “Lesbians on Mars?” was one of the quickfire questions I heard tossed at Howard as he slams the door on them. If you remember that it’s set in a stereotypical reflection rather than the real world, it works.

Overall it’s an enjoyable light comedy. It ducks some obvious questions, and uses and denounces gay stereotypes in the same breath, but comes down on the side of common sense and tolerance. It would work as well on video but you might enjoy it at the cinema if you want something both character-driven and light.

Click here to buy films from one of the online stores in Festivale's on-line shopping mallTim Richards

See also: Ali's review for the cast & crew credits

John Cusack films page
For credits and official site details, click here.
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Published in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
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