The 1997 film In & Out starring Kevin Kline, Tom Selleck, Joan Cusack, Debbie Reynolds, and many others famous actors, revolves around Howard Brackett (Kline) a loved and well respected high school English teacher and sports coach, who’s a week away from marrying his fiancee. The small town of Greenleaf, Indiana, is also buzzing with excitement as Howard’s former student, Cameron Drake, now a famous actor, has been nominated for an Oscar. As the whole town watches, Cameron wins the award for Best Actor, ironically beating out other actors such as Tom Selleck. In his speech, he thanks Howard Brackett, commenting that he was his favorite teacher, and then outs Howard for being gay. This, of course, shocks the whole town. The comedic aspect is that Howard, as far as he knew, is not gay. Despite Howard’s protests, the town takes Cameron’s statement as fact, much to Howard’s horror and the whole town’s shock. Almost overnight, Howard becomes a celebrity as hoards of interviewers and newscasters swarm the town. There’s also a noticeable change in the other residents’ attitudes towards Howard. His students, coworkers, and even his own family and friends start treating him differently.
The film In & Out needs to be dragged out of the closet, so to speak, and celebrated for its commentary on homosexuality, a topic Hollywood rarely discussed during this time. This film discusses being openly gay in America, as well as makes note of people’s reaction to coming out, which wasn’t as celebrated as it is nowadays. Fun fact: this film was inspired by Tom Hanks’s 1994 Oscar speech, in which he thanked a former high school teacher and classmate, revealing, with permission, their sexual orientation on live TV. The film takes the consent out of this tear-jerking, real-life moment, commenting on society’s perceptions of being gay during this time period. Compared to films nowadays, in which members of the LGBTQ+ community are often treated normally, In & Out establishes how gay people are treated differently during the 90’s and are often ostracized.
The drastic change in everyone’s perception and treatment of Howard after Cameron’s speech is anything less than shocking. Almost instantly, Howard’s parents show up at his door, awkwardly asking if he has anything to tell them. Even Howard’s fiance is a mixture of horrified and hysterical, which puts a new strain on their otherwise perfect relationship. Another example can be seen in one student, Jack. Before the news, Howard was Jack’s hero. Afterwards, Jack claims to his fellow classmates that Howard wasn’t his hero and distances himself from Howard in every possible way. Everyone, even Howard’s students, treats him differently after the Oscars speech, further showcasing the negative reactions, stigma, and ostracisation that homosexuals faced at the time because of their sexuality. The majority of the school staff and students treat Howard in a new cautious fashion, as though suddenly unfamiliar with this longtime resident of this small community. In one scene, several male students are changing in the locker room and immediately cover up their bodies with towels when Howard enters, looking uncomfortable with Howard’s presence and insisting that he leave. At this point in the film, Howard does not fully understand the change in everyone’s perception of him and only finds it odd. This reaction, as well as other similar reactions, establishes the film’s commentary on the perception and treatment of gay people in this time period.
Another negative reaction towards Howard that creates a sense of conflict in the film comes from his boss, the principal of the high school, who also appears to be a friend of Howard’s. At one point in the film, the principal pulls Howard aside and threatens him, stating that if he does not go through with his wedding, he would be fired. This devastates Howard and further provides an inner conflict as he questions his sexuality. Spoiler Alert: Howard eventually gets fired from his job because the students’ parents felt that Howard’s presence would provide a bad influence on their children. Job terminations due to a person’s sexuality were not uncommon at the time, and the film illustrates just how problematic this is: Howard’s ambiguous sexuality was enough for the school board to fire him, ignoring his long history with the school and how much he had done for his students.
In contrast to Howard’s character, the famous newscaster, Peter Malloy, played by Tom Selleck, is openly gay and is widely accepted as such. Peter tells Howard that when he came out, people only cared for a moment before moving on. While Howard’s character shows people’s negative reactions towards coming out as gay, Peter employs the exact opposite. He is openly gay and proud of it, remarking that it is something to celebrate, not be ashamed of. Peter’s character illustrates the ideal reaction to coming out; that people should be treated respectfully regardless of their sexual orientation.
In & Out portrays a controversial topic with a mixture of seriousness and an edge of comedy to keep the audience watching. It’s a shame that this film is not as widely known as it deserves to be. If you want to check it out, it’s free to watch on Amazon Prime. You won’t regret it.
(Video Clips attached to this article and the movie poster are copyrighted to Paramount Pictures)