High school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is only a few days away from being married to his long-time girlfriend, Emily (Joan Cusack). When one of his former students wins an Academy Award, he thanks Howard in his acceptance speech and tells the world that Howard is gay. This comes as a shock to Emily, the town they live in, and Howard himself, who adamantly denies it.
I have not seen this movie in a very long time. So long, in fact, that I had mostly forgotten the basics of it. Watching it again as an adult in 2022 had me curious and sort of unsure how to review it. Given that In and Out was released in 1997, I couldn’t quite figure out if it was just outdated and out of touch, or a pretty innocuous parody of how Hollywood (and people in general) treated homosexuality back then. The bias Howard faced so was blatant, the jokes so aggressive and stereotypical, that I had to go with parody.
That being said, I found In and Out to be a truly entertaining movie, due mostly to the performances by Kevin Kline and Joan Cusack. Kline is fantastic as Howard, a man struggling with his own sexuality and what that means for both his personal and professional life. Cusack is so earnest and endearing as his supporting, albeit confused, fiancée. And then she’s finally able to break free and release all of her pent up frustration, which is truly a sight to behold. I can see why Cusack earned herself a Supporting Actress nod at the Oscars that year.
This is the second movie in a week that I’ve watched with Wilford Brimley, and I truly enjoyed both him and Debbie Reynolds as Howard’s parents. Tom Selleck shows up as Peter, a sleazy entertainment reporter who is eager to push Howard’s story to the nation in order to make a name for himself. It’s strange to see Tom Selleck without his famous mustache. That being said, I wasn’t really digging his scenes with Howard. Sure, Peter is the voice of reason, trying to help Howard recognize and embrace his sexuality, but I sensed absolutely zero chemistry between the two actors. Maybe Selleck was miscast? I’m not sure what it was, but I always felt a bit meh when he was on screen.
In and Out does its very best to strike just the right balance between complete satire and meaningful social commentary. It’s very witty in parts and then completely cringeworthy in others. Kline’s bursting , enthusiastic dancing set to I Will Survive while listening to a “How to Be a Man!” audiotape is a highlight, as is his unwavering dedication to all things Barbra Streisand. When the town comes together for Howard’s benefit, the move delves into a very O’Captain, My Captain! meets I am Spartacus! homage that is as moving as it is amusing.
I think it’s important to go into this movie understand that it’s a satire, otherwise you’re just going to be offended. But it was a big deal back in 1997 for bringing to light a lot of the ridiculous homophobia and biases that happened not only in small town Americana, but in Hollywood too. Hell, not much has changed, sadly. But In and Out is a delightful comedy enriched by its performances. If anything, watch for Kevin Kline alone. You won’t be disappointed.