In And Out

When Tom Hanks won the Best Actor Academy Award for “Philadelphia,” his passionate acceptance speech gave thanks to a number of people, including one of his previous teachers. Because the character he played in “Philadelphia” was a gay man, Hanks mentioned that his former teacher was also gay.

That on-air revelation, reaching almost a billion people, inspired producer Scott Rudin. He wondered what would happen if the same thing happened to another teacher, but this time, the teacher wasn’t gay. Or at least out. That brings us to “In & Out,” a thigh-slapping, hilarious comedy about just that. Kevin Kline is sensational as small town high school teacher Howard Brackett, who just may be the most popular man in town. He teaches English, coaches the track team, and is just three days away from his long-awaited wedding. Howard Brackett’s life couldn’t be more perfect.

He’s got a beautiful bride (who lost 75 pounds for the occasion), and one of his former students has been nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award. Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) is the former student, a quasi-Brad Pitt look-alike whose performance as a gay soldier in “To Serve and Protect,” has put him in contention with the likes of Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, Michael Douglas, and Steven Seagal for the film “Snowball in Hell.” When the entire town gathers around their collective television sets for the big moment, they are elated when Drake wins the award.

That elation turns to confusion when Drake thanks Brackett for his help and guidance, and then mentions that his former teacher is gay. Talk about dropping a bombshell. Then Brackett’s life becomes a media event, with the nation’s press descending on the small town. Brackett insists to his fiancĂ©e Emily (a fabulous Joan Cusack), his mother Berniece (Debbie Reynolds) and father Frank (Wilford Brimley), that he’s not gay. In fact, he might sue. His mother could care less if her son is gay, bi, or straight. She’s planned a terrific wedding, and she plans to go through with it.

Is he or isn’t he? That’s not a question about Brackett’s hair-color, but his sexuality. Inquiring minds want to know, from the doddering principal to scared to say the word homosexual, to a gay investigative reporter who is looking for a ratings winner. While the rest of the press flock to the newest flavor of the day, television tabloid reporter Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) sticks around hoping to get a scoop. Malloy’s insistence pays off halfway through the film, in a scene that’s so funny it hurts to laugh. From that moment on, “In & Out” becomes a different animal, tackling more issues than tickling funny bones.

Still, Paul Rudnick’s bright and witty script neatly pulls everything together while making numerous hilarious observations about gay culture. Frank Oz does a masterful job of finding the humor in Rudnick’s hilarious screenplay. So does the cast. Kline is absolutely brilliant, balancing physical comedy with a performance that’s both honest and real. Selleck is a delight as the reporter who knows exactly what the teacher needs. I love Debbie Reynolds, and it’s always a pleasure to see here at work. She delights in every scene. Joan Cusack is a real scene-stealer as the apprehensive bride- to-be, while Wilford Brimley shares some nice moments with Kline late in the picture. Peppered with salty language and lots of fabulous gay humor, “In & Out” is an outstanding comedy that should appeal to most audiences.


IN & OUT Kevin Kline, Tom Selleck, Joan Cusack, Bob Newhart, Debbie Reynolds, Matt Dillon, and Wilfred Brimley in a film directed by Frank Oz. 90 Min. PG-13 LARSEN RATING: $7

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