Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reverend's Reviews: Coming Out Stories - Part 3

In recognition of National Coming Out Day today, this is the conclusion of Chris' three-part series of influential films that helped him in his coming out.

In 1997, a film featuring a gay man’s struggle to come out as its main plotline was released and quickly became one of my favorites. In & Out,with a perceptive and very funny screenplay by playwright Paul Rudnick, remains the most unabashedly GLBT-positive production yet by a major studio (Paramount). (I’m not forgetting Brokeback Mountain, but that was independently produced and hardly as optimistic in tone.)

Controversy erupts in the small town of Greenleaf, Indiana when local high school English teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is unexpectedly outed by a former student. That the outing occurs during the globally televised Academy Awards ceremony when the ex-pupil turned movie star, Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon), wins the Oscar for Best Actor exposes Howard to the world. There’s just one problem: Howard insists he isn’t gay, and he is engaged to be married to a fellow teacher (the ever-wonderful Joan Cusack, who received an Oscar nomination herself for this performance) a few days later.

As the media descends on Greenleaf, Howard is forced to examine himself. This includes his conduct, mannerisms, style of dress, and music choices (Barbra Streisand and the Village People are suspicious faves). Being hounded by an openly gay TV reporter (Tom Selleck, cast against type with great results) alternately helps and hinders Howard.

Howard finally admits he is gay, after denying it for half the movie, in one of the best, most sensitively handled coming-out scenes ever. Howard is caught off guard as much as anyone when he announces it, inadvertently at first, to his bride and a church full of people during his wedding. While many people, including myself, would term this a nightmare scenario and certainly not the ideal, Howard handles it with enormous dignity and grace (largely thanks to Kline’s considerable acting skills).

The bride is understandably devastated (“Do you have any idea how many times I’ve had to watch Funny Lady?” she cries out to the wedding guests). When the gay TV reporter congratulates Howard for coming out, Howard is taken aback. “I just ruined her life,” Howard responds. The reporter replies, truthfully, “No, you saved her life.”

The remainder of In & Out details the reactions of Howard’s family members, students and educational colleagues, and various other townspeople. It’s nice that ten years after In & Out was released, and perhaps partly due to the influence of this film and the others spotlighted in this series, coming out is a somewhat less-threatening prospect than it used to be.

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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