Frank Oz’s In & Out (1997) is diverting entertainment; light and fluffy with plenty of mindless distraction to help flesh out an otherwise conventional story. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick pilfered the initial idea for the film’s plot after Tom Hanks’ Oscar acceptance speech (for Philadelphia), accidentally outed a former teacher/mentor.
In & Out is the story of Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) a high school teacher living in the pastoral enclave of Greenleaf Indiana. His former pupil, Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) has just been nominated for an Oscar. Naturally, the whole town is agog and buzzing with the excitement that Cameron just might win, and in fact, he does. Unfortunately for Howard and his fiancée, Emily Montgomery (Joan Cusack) – elation turns to shock and dismay when Cameron publicly thanks Howard for his guidance and tutelage; then informs the audience and the world that Howard is gay.
Outside of fifteen minutes Howard’s mother, Bernice (Debbie Reynolds) and father, Frank (Wilford Brimley) are knocking on his door, demanding to know the truth about Howard’s sexual orientation. Worse, Howard’s principal, Tom Halliwell (Bob Newhart) begins to have second thoughts about Howard staying on as an educator there. Naturally, Howard denies Cameron’s allegations, pawning the onus onto Hollywood’s crazy lifestyle having turned his former student’s head. Besides, Howard’s wedding to Emily is slated for the following week. He can’t be gay…or can he?
If his friends and family are willing to accept Howard at face value, the paparazzi beyond the borders of Greenleaf are not. In no time, ‘media frenzy’ ensues in the heart of rural America. Hot shot television tabloid journalist, Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) arrives in town for the real scoop and is treated to a litany of rumor and innuendo from Howard’s closest associates. As luck would have it, all of this intense scrutiny eventually leads to a breaking point. Howard is forced to admit to Emily that he is, in fact, a homosexual.
In & Out feels more like an '80s comedy than it should. By 1997 'outing' someone on their sexual orientation seemed a rather quaint exercise at best. To be sure there are fun moments in the Paul Rudnick script, but on the whole the story seems a bit too rehearsed and too contrived to be completely enjoyed. Greenleaf's conservative inhabitants are painted with a broad brush; yokels from the backwoods who cannot conceive that a homosexual might be living among them.
Kevin Klein is an amiable fop. But he’s rather unconvincing as the presumed straight man. Instead, we believe Cameron’s allegation from the start and throughout the story – diffusing the shock value of his revelation later on in the story. Joan Cusack provides some inspired comedic styling that otherwise would be lacking in this largely pedestrian ‘one premise’ movie.
Beautifully photographed by Rob Hahn with art direction by Ken Adam, In & Out remains rather dull throughout. It treats homosexuality as something to be overcome or covered up until there’s nowhere else to hide; a not terribly progressive idea in the liberal quagmire of out and out acceptance for gay culture.
Paramount Home Video’s DVD delivers a pleasing image. Colors are vibrant. Contrast levels are a tad weaker than expected. Some minor age related artifacts are present and rather obvious. There’s also a slight hint of edge enhancement. Overall, the image is smooth and easy on the eyes. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and adequate for this primarily dialogue-driven outing. The film’s theatrical trailer is the only extra.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)