I'm Gay!

Kiss Me, Guido
Uptown Theatre, starts Friday

In & Out
area theaters

"COMING OUT" IS a sort of double-entendre for gay-themed movies. Not unlike other movies, gay movies come out--they get released, in other words--but exactly how they're released affects how they come out in the other sense.

Let's suppose you were preparing to come out--I mean, in that other sense. Assuming that you're seeking approval for coming out (and maybe you aren't), the way you choose to do it might depend on the size of your audience, their relationship to you, what kind of folks they are, and where you're addressing them. You might suppose that it would be easier to come out to a packed house of strangers at the Uptown Theatre than, say, at the Mall of America multiplex or the Village 4 in Coon Rapids. And what you had to say would probably mean something very different in each of these places. You may even decide to tailor your coming out to fit the venue. More likely, you'll have that decided for you.

All of this is a long way of saying that there are two gay-themed movies coming out this week--Kiss Me, Guido and In & Out--and, despite sharing the same studio (Paramount), the two have come out quite differently. (Note: Stop reading now if you don't wish to know how the films, er, come out.) Basically, where the wide-released In & Out credits small-town straight people with the courage to proclaim "I'm gay!", Kiss Me, Guido is a formerly independent comedy of mistaken (sexual) identity with a low enough budget not to care about "enlightening" the masses. Its own coming-out line is "I'm 100 percent U.S. Grade-A fuckin' queer"--spoken by a West Village gay man (Anthony Barrile) to his new Bronx-bred roommate, a Sicilian American "Guido" (Nick Scotti) who answered a classified ad thinking "GWM" meant "Guy With Money."

As these two men and some other unlike types form a pansexual rainbow coalition, the good-natured Guido succeeds in its bid to transform blatant stereotypes and prejudices (not all of them untrue or unfunny) into friendly quirks--and without preaching. In & Out, on the other hand, is a coming-out farce that culminates in a round of "I'm gay!" proclamations made by... a bunch of straight people. The scene is meant as a campy parody of the "I'm Spartacus!" routine from Spartacus, the persecuted rebel in this case being a gay high-school teacher (Kevin Kline) who dares to come out in small-town Indiana. But it clinches In & Out as the screwball Philadelphia, a movie that contorts itself in order to indulge the core audience's perceived homophobia and then whitewash it--in the process turning the protagonist into an asexual cipher.

At first, Kline's closeted and engaged Mr. Brackett goes nuts when a former student-turned-movie star (Matt Dillon) outs him at the Academy Awards (a situation adapted from Tom Hanks's Oscar-acceptance speech for Philadelphia). And who wouldn't? The guys at his bachelor party give him a laserdisc of Funny Girl; one of his students asks, "Don't you just wanna stick a grenade in your mouth?"; and a priest suggests that he screw his fiancée (Joan Cusack)--yes, before the wedding--in order to test whether he's, you know, a red-blooded male. But once an old disco tune has helped him out, the film displaces all comedic humiliation onto Cusack's pathetic bride-at-the-altar. (Ladies--just imagine her nightmare!) Then it lathers on the violin music as the teacher's Corn Belt dad (Wilford Brimley) summons the courage to accept that his son won't be cruising chicks anytime soon. Even for a comedy, this is every bit as unconvincing as it sounds.

Don't get me wrong: Enlightening the masses can be a great thing to want to do, even when it means casting has-been TV actors like Tom Selleck and Bob Newhart, with whom those masses can presumably relate. But In & Out plays much too safe even by multiplex standards. With just under 90 minutes to spend, director Frank Oz allocates more than half to his wanna-be "straight man"'s wacky anxiety. (Notably, Kiss Me, Guido never once identifies with Frankie's initial phobia.) Then there's the jilted fiancée's anxiety, then the bulimic supermodel's anxiety, and then the coming out en masse--leaving no time left to show that being gay (as opposed to being "gay") might be something like having a life.

So the film comes out to suit the venue--which in this case is hardly at all. In light of Oz's claim to The Advocate that "this is a movie about feeling good about who you are," it seems odd that In & Out's climactic wedding celebration is as straight as they come. And even though everyone's "gay," no one mentions what a drag it is that Mr. Brackett can't get legally hitched.

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