"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...
...and three seconds later, tells the whole world that Howard is 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.
As the wedding draws near, and 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 Jerkass' after Cameron outed him, but they are portrayed as more confused about the issue than anything.
- 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."
- The Beard: Emily
- Berserk Button:
What did you say? Aldo:
It sucks. It's boring. Howard:
Say that again. Aldo: She
was too old
* Cue bar brawl
- Big Damn Kiss: Between Peter and Howard, initiated by Peter. It lasts a good 10 seconds.
- Camp Gay: Averted. Howard's gayness is played up just enough that it's obvious to the audience, but lets it still be understandable that no-one in-story noticed it.
- Cast Full of Gay: Not actually, but poor, twice-rejected Emily thinks she's trapped in one. "Is EVERYBODY gay? Is this like the Twilight Zone?"
- 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.
- Coming-Out Story
- 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.
- Cure Your Gays: Howard attempts this with a self-help tape.
- Dance Party Ending: To Macho Man. Yes, really.
- The Ditz: Carl.
Why is everyone talking about Howard? Mrs. Lester:
Because he likes DICK
, Carl! Carl:
] Who's Dick?
- Walter, Howard's brother. He tends to pick things up slowly, but at the climax has a wonderful Eureka Moment. See I Am Spartacus for the results.
- Everyone Is Gay: The first guy Emily hits on after her wedding is Peter Malloy. Unfortunately for her, he's gay.
- The Fifties: Greenleaf, Indiana seems stuck in it.
- Fired Teacher: For not going through with the wedding.
- Formerly Fat: Emily
- Freudian Slippery Slope: "This is my Peter - uh, my *friend* Peter. We just met at the, uh, intersexual... homosection... INTERSECTION!"
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Howard before he lets the realization sink in.
- I Am Spartacus: Everyone at the graduation ceremony coming to Howard's aid when he's fired by claiming they were gay too.
- Likes Older Women: Cameron
- No Bisexuals: But it was Fair for Its Day. The movie portrayed homosexuals in a positive (though stereotyped) light and homophobia as paranoiacally idiotic. 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.
- Post-Kiss Catatonia: Howard, after getting a good ten second kiss from Peter.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis! / Precision F-Strike: "FUCK! BARBRA! STREISAND!"
- Real Men Like Barbra Streisand
- Ripped from the Headlines: The plot was inspired by Tom Hanks' acceptance speech for his Philadelphia Oscar, where Hanks thanked a gay teacher that he didn't know was still closeted.
- 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.
- The Tape Knew You Would Say That: "Stop dancing!" Either that tape is watching him, or it's really pessimistic about its success rate.
- Some of its guesses are bizarrely specific. "Excuse me, are we a little teapot?"
- Technology Marches On: A scene has Cameron's supermodel girlfriend befuddled by a rotary-dial telephone in her motel room.
- Real Life example: At Howards bachelor party they stick a Laserdisc of Funny Girl in Howards hands. Modern viewers are forgiven if they mistook it for a LP of the soundtrack.
- Transparent Closet
- Unintentional Period Piece: It may seem strange to some latter-day viewers when the entire town freaks out over the possibility that the high school English teacher is gay. Even if one assumes such a thing could still happen in a small town, it's odd to see the principal be so blunt about firing Howard on the basis of his sexual orientation.
- 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."