In and Out
starring Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack, Matt Dillon, Debbie Reynolds, Wilford Brimley, Tom Selleck
and Bob Newhart
written by Paul Rudnick
directed by Frank Oz
Everybody knows Frank Oz’s voice - the voice of Yoda from star Wars, the voice of Fozzy Bear and other puppet characters from Sesame Street. You might also know his face form movies such as Trading Places (as a policeman), The Blues Brothers and Blues Brothers 2000, in which he appeared as a prison warden. In The Blues Brothers he famously handed John Belushi his “soiled” condemn at the end of a pencil.
As a puppeteer who made his career inc children’s programming a lot of people might not think of him or take him seriously as a big-screen director. But I know for a fact that Oz has directed several Hollywood films and gained a good reputation in the industry. He’s a serious man of some talent, rather than a goof with a puppet on his hand.
In and Out is, perhaps, some kind of milestone in modern American culture because it shows us jus how acceptable the topic of homosexuality has now become that a mainstream movie featuring it can be so successful. Until the 1970s homosexuality was not just illegal in many places but classified as a psychiatric illness. It was so taboo that many adults grew up understanding nothing about it. As a sign of how far we’ve come In and Out has the appearance and feel of light family entertainment.
A high school English literature teacher, played by Kevin Kline, is accidentally‘outed’ by a former student, famous actor Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) at the Academy Awards show. The teacher is not gay and, in fact, he is on the verge of marring a fellow English teacher at his school, Joan Cusack, to the delight of his parents, Debbie Reynolds and Wilford Brimley. But he becomes the focus of sudden, intense media attention.
As a language lesson, we can see here how the word “out” is often used these days as a verb describing the process of homosexual revealing their sexual orientation to the world. They “come out” or are “outed” by others on their behalf. British tabloid newspapers have mad ea practice of “outing” celebrities and public figures without their consent. It is a rather vicious practice.
In the aftermath of the Academy Awards the film treats us to many of the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding gays. To help train himself to appear more masculine, at lest in public, Kline buys himself a self-help cassette tape that provides the movie with most of its best lines and comedic moments. It’s also a nice peek into cultural perceptions.
For example, there seems to be a lot of hesitation and suspicion in American culture toward male dancing - hence the difficulty classical dance troupes have in finding male ballet dancers. The self-help tape advises us, “This will be your ultimate test. At all costs avoid rhythm, grace, and pleasure ... Men do not dance. They work. They drink. They have bad backs ... Be a man! Punch someone. Kick someone. Bite someone’s ear.” (A Mike Tyson reference.) The idea is that if a man enjoys dancing, or enjoys it too much, then he is a sissy and a sexual suspect.
This contrasts dramatically with Latin cultures where male dancing is exceptionally sexy and virile, and there are many revered male dancers.
Kline’s failure to master the masculinity described by the tape convinces him that he is, in fact, gay. He confesses as much to his bride during their wedding service at the altar of the church, in front of everyone. Bad timing indeed. “Is everybody gay? Is this the Twilight Zone?” she laments. Undoubtedly, there are some anti-American elements in the world that think just this about American culture. Check out Uganda.