When I was a kid, my friends would make assumptions about certain people’s sexual orientation based on seemingly little things, the way they walked or talked, their choice of occupation. My parents, trying to instill open-mindedness, would remind us that stereotypes didn’t make a person a certain way, although I would find out that the stereotypes were often true. This is the central premise of In and Out.
In and Out stars Kevin Kline as Howard Brackett, a popular English teacher at a small-town Indiana high school. His life is turned upside down as a result of an Academy Awards broadcast in which a former student announces, while accepting the best actor Oscar, that Howard is gay. This is news to Howard, his family, his students and just about everyone in Greenleaf, Indiana.
As a media frenzy descends upon the town, people begin to wonder if there is something to Howard’s bow ties and Barbra Streisand film festivals. His students feel caught between liking Howard and their prejudices against homosexuals. The pressure to marry his long-time fiancée (Joan Cusack) increases.
The film stays on a superficial level. I wondered at times what was going on in Howard’s head, if he truly was struggling with his sexual identity. Instead the movie delivers jokes about Barbra Streisand albums and dancing to disco music. But the film accurately reflects how many people feel about homosexuals. As one of Howard’s student’s puts it, he is “smart, clean, totally decent human being — gay.” The same student is also shown be the most uncomfortable with gay sex. We can laugh at gay stereotypes, we can sympathize with Howard’s wanting to lead a normal life, but when it comes to inner struggles and sexual attraction, we don’t want to hear about it.
All that aside, the movie is enjoyable. A tape Howard listens to on how to be a manly man seemed like a silly comic device but turned out to be quite funny. All of the main characters are sympathetic and their performances were good. Even Tom Selleck, as a gay reporter looking trying to use Howard to get ratings turns out to be a decent guy. Though the movie turns preachy at the end, I couldn’t fault its message.
Despite problems with how the movie examines homosexuality, we should remember that the people of Greenleaf, Indiana represent America. Maybe we all need to examine what we think it means to be gay.