Classic Film Review: “In & Out” turns 25, old enough to be a “classic”

Has it really been 25 years since “In & Out” came, uh, “out?”

Kevin Kline won an Oscar for other work, but hell’s bells, he was never funnier than in this Paul Rudnick farce.

Debbie Reynolds playing his Mom, Joan Cusack melting down at the wedding that never was to be, conservative icon and future reverse mortgage hustler Tom Selleck normalizing gay life for a shocked, reactionary fanbase?

By the way, Selleck? The funniest he would ever be, right here in this little compact 90 minute romp that didn’t so much change America as reflect a change.

Twenty-five years in automotive and boat terms means you get a “classic” or “antique” license plate or registration. Guess what? “In & Out” is a classic, in every variation of the word.

Watching it now, it feels quaint — a time capsule of the late ’90s, its prejudices, stereotypes and worth-lampooning gay cliches. But what makes it a classic is the fact that it still plays. It’s still hilarious, and at times, just joyous to sit through.

I remember gathering with my fellow critics for a lower East Side, NY screening of the movie on the weekend it was previewed and junketed (cast gathered at a tony NYC hotel for interviews with the press). A mostly-gay and defiantly New York audience — plus critics from “the provinces” — roared the roof off at screenwriter and Premiere Magazine humor columnist Paul Rudnick’s every-gay-stereotype jabbing script, at Kline and Selleck and Reynolds doing the droll “Honey, I knew” mom thing and Cusack as the would-be bride and last to know and Ernie Sabella (Pumba in the original animated “Lion King”) starting a brawl with “Streisand is OVERrated.”

Oh. My. God.

Yes, it was a more innocent time, of show tunes jokes and “real men don’t dance” jabs and “Well, if you dress well and have good manners and a genteel sensibility and love show tunes you must be gay” messaging you could never get away with today. Never ever. Ever.

The story was inspired by Tom Hanks’ “Philadelphia” Oscar speech, “outing” his beloved acting teacher. Here, the “outer” is gauche and dopey but well-meaning former student Cameron, played with unironic perfection by Matt Dillon.

Kline is Howard Brackett, the small town drama teacher — about to marry — who sees this on TV (with his fiance) and kind of loses his mind.

Cusack plays the long-patient fiance, Bob Newhart the not-all-that-tolerant school principal.

Selleck rolls into town as a smug, smirking big-city-sophisticate/TV reporter who milks this story for all that it’s worth, perhaps with “an agenda” all his own. Howard sees through him.

 “Here, I’ll give you your headline! Howard Brackett is a big homo-queer-Mary-sissy man. He just came out at his big church wedding. Martha Stewart is furious!

Sage, down-to-Earth character actor Wilford Brimley’s presence, playing the loving father of the outed gay Howard, speaks volumes about where we were as a country in 1997. It was time for a mainstream comedy to run with this, time for America to accept the obvious.

Needless to say, all heck breaks out in the film at this disruption — Howard protesting too much, the town recoiling and pondering and then kind of shrugging its shoulders in a way that brings tears to this day.

And damned if that Frank Oz doesn’t channel the “screwball” masters of the past as slapstick, silly and social commentary all boil over in a bubbly farce that only lets up for us to take a breath. “In & Out” rarely wastes a minute of screen time, and in one last “on-the-nose” touch gives The Village People the last word in the last scene.

Damn.

Twenty five years! Somebody should throw a party. Not in Florida, where I live, of course. Il Duce’s d-bag descendant would stamp his little feet in fascist “Don’t say GAY” fury.

“What are we all so afraid of?” would have him bursting another vein. Or into tears, the big silly.

For the rest of us, this now-officially-a-classic film is a reminder and a question reopened for America to answer.

Do we really want to go back to a time before “In & Out?” Will we let the most ignorant, backward and bigoted among us ordain it?

Rating: PG-13, profanity, adult subject matter

Cast: Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Debbie Reynolds, Tom Selleck, Bob Newhart, Matt Dillon, Ernie Sabella and Wilford Brimley.

Credits: Directed by Frank Oz, scripted by Paul Rudnick. A Paramount release on Amazon, virtually any streaming service you can name

Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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