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"We had a gay teacher! We must face up to that, and move on with our lives."
A 1997 film directed by Frank Oz, which deals with homosexuality with some degree of fairness, despite occasionally leaning back on stereotypes for its characters. Granted, it was 1997, when the only easy way for the general public to tell somebody was gay was to fall back on stereotypes.Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline), a high school English teacher in the "BIG small town" of Greenleaf, Indiana, is preparing for his marriage to his fiancée of three years, Emily Montgomery (Joan Cusack), while the whole town is abuzz with the news that hometown boy turned Hollywood megastar Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) is picked as the favorite to win the Best Actor gong at the Academy Awards for his performance in a war film as a gay soldier. At Oscar night, the whole town is watching as Drake wins the award, and dedicates his award to Howard, who Cameron outs as gay.The next day, Howard is beset with camera crews and reporters eager to get their slice of the story - including Peter Molloy (Tom Selleck), a reporter for an entertainment gossip show - and tries to tell everyone that Cameron's made a mistake. However, the openly gay Molloy isn't convinced, and is covering the days leading up to Howard's wedding because he suspects denial. Thus Howard finds himself under tremendous pressure from his parents, his fiancée and the school's principal (Bob Newhart), Howard tries to assert his heterosexuality, but even he starts questioning himself, and has to face the truth...Has nothing to do with the superlative West-coast burger joint. Or the Garrison Keillor song about the cat who wants to go in and out and in and out and in and out and...
This film provides examples of:
Affectionate Parody: Of conservative, small-town life and also of attitudes towards gay people at the time (and to a lesser extent, Hollywood). The film easily could have transformed Howard's friends, family, and students into bigoted Jerkasses after Cameron outed him, but they are portrayed as more confused about the issue than anything.
All the Good Men Are Gay: When Howard realizes that he really is gay and calls off the wedding, his fiancee is devastated and goes to a bar (in her wedding dress, no less) to drink away her sorrows. She hits on Tom Selleck's character, who truthfully tells her that he is gay. Cut to her running out into the parking lot, falling to her knees, and screaming, "Is everybody gay?!"
Armor-Piercing Question: Cameron Drake at the graduation ceremony slowly breaking away at the faculty's reason for firing Howard and the claim he "resigned."
Cleaning Up Romantic Loose Ends: In the final scene, Cameron is implied to be starting a relationship with Emily. And his girlfriend is last seen dancing with Howard's brother. Hell Yeah.
Closet Key: Peter and, in a bizarre straight example, Cameron. Howard, not the type to ever consciously form a romantic relationship with someone he knew he wasn't attracted to, honestly didn't realize that he was gay until Cameron planted the seed in his mind. Peter forced him to acknowledge rather than deny what he was realizing. One has to wonder what tricks Howard's subconscious had to play to keep him from ever truly suspecting he wasn't straight. Being against premarital sex, fine, but not seeming to have any sexual desire at all for the person you're going to marry seems as though that might just tip off some sort of alarm. I might be gay. I might be asexual. I might not really be in love with this person. Something.
Confessional: Howard goes to one to talk about his problem, telling the Father I Have This Friend, and describes the situation. The Father listens but the moment Howard mentions "his friend" has held off on sex with his fiance for three years the Father immediately tells him this "friend" is gay. But doesn't actually say this is a bad thing.
Freudian Slippery Slope: "This is my Peter - uh, my *friend* Peter. We just met at the, uh, intersexual... homosection... INTERSECTION!"
Halfway Plot Switch: The movie begins by centering on a straight man who is incorrectly outed by a well-meaning-but-misguided former student. Then, at the altar, he says, "I'm gay," and suddenly it's about the repercussions on his life, friends and family. (And fiancée.)
Cameron: Eat something, I'm begging you! You look like a swizzle stick!
I Am Spartacus: Everyone at the graduation ceremony coming to Howard's aid when he's fired by claiming they were gay too.
Informed Attribute: Howard's homosexuality is based primarily around the fact that he says, straight out, "I'm gay." Well, that and some Tertiary Sexual Characteristics like dancing and his encyclopedic knowledge of Streisand. But, the number of actual genuinely gay activities (bonding romantically with other men; sexual activities with other men; kissing other men) he engages in? One. Actual gay activities he engages in of his own volition? ZERO. (Partially justified by the timespan of under a week, but nonetheless.)
No Bisexuals: But it was Fair for Its Day. The movie portrayed homosexuals in a positive (though stereotyped) light and homophobia as idiotically paranoid. This was back before the phrase LGBT was thrown around as a catch-all.
N-Word Privileges: Meta-example. The screenwriter, Paul Rudnick, is an openly gay man who seems to enjoy playing with gay stereotypes (if his other works Jeffrey and the Stepford Wives remake are anything to go by).
Oscar Bait: Parodied mercilessly, along with every other Oscars-related trope, in the opening segment where Cameron wins the award.
Platonic Life Partners: In hindsight, this is probably how Howard thought of Emily when they were engaged, given that he's not attracted to her physically.
Shaming the Mob: Not a violent one, but rather an apathetic one. Cameron Drake starts it off by asking questions which destroy their farce of a story that Howard "resigned for the good of the students." Then his students claim they are gay, because it rubbed off of them from Howard. Then his brother Walter steps in to shame the community by claiming he still likes his brother and admits, by the faculty's logic, he must be gay as well. Then Howard's parents claim they're gay. Then the whole town slowly stands up in support.
Straight Gay/Flamboyant Gay: Howard and Peter both straddle the line, Peter leaning towards Straight and Howard towards Flamboyant.
Why Waste a Wedding?: In the end, Howard and Emily's wedding is called off, but the venue is still used for a wedding and reception at the very end - by Howard's parents, who renew their wedding vows. The movie ends with the townsfolk dancing at the reception to "Macho Man."