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 — all done knowingly, and all with tongue firmly planted in cheek, as the movie is, at its heart, a satire where many elements are exaggerated for comedic effect.
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 nominated to win Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his performance in a war film as a gay soldier. Accordingly, the whole town is watching as Drake wins the Oscar and dedicates his award to Howard — outing him as gay in the process.
Within hours, Howard is beset by camera crews and reporters eager to get their slice of the story — including Peter Molloy (Tom Selleck), a reporter for an entertainment gossip show. Howard insists that he's not gay and that Cameron was mistaken. However, the openly gay Molloy isn't convinced, and settles in to cover the days leading up to Howard's wedding because he suspects denial. Thus Howard finds himself under tremendous pressure from Emily, his parents, and the school's principal (Bob Newhart) to assert his heterosexuality, but when even he starts questioning himself, he 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:
- Actor Allusion: When Glenn Close (playing herself) rattles off the list of Best Actor nominees, she pauses after mentioning "Michael Douglas in Primary Urges" to blow him a kiss. One wonders if this was an ad lib on her part, acknowledging her former co-star. Also, Primary Urges is clearly a shout-out to Basic Instinct, which Douglas starred in.
- 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. (Only the principal is depicted as an out-and-out bigot.)
- 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."
- Berserk Button:
- The Big Damn Kiss: Between Peter and Howard, initiated by Peter. It lasts a good 10 seconds.Howard: You kissed me!
Peter: You noticed.
- Bait-and-Switch: At the end, it looks like Howard and Peter would be getting ready to get married. In actuality, it's Howard's parents renewing their wedding vows.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: A mild case but Howard's coworkers Ed Kenrow and Ava Blazer talk supportively (albeit a bit gossipy) about Howard being gay after Camerons Oscar. During the graduation speech, after he's been fired, they're less open about any support they may feel for him, and Kenrow seems a little too happy about being awarded teacher of the year in Howard's place. Both are present and enjoying themselves at the wedding dance with Howard and his family at the end though which lightens this.
- Brainless Beauty: Cameron's vapid supermodel girlfriend, Sonya.
- The Cameo: Whoopi Goldberg and Glenn Close as themselves in the Academy Awards scene; the former is interviewed by Peter Malloy on the red carpet about Cameron Drake, while the latter presents the award for Best Actor during the ceremony.
- 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.
- Camp Straight: Aldo the hairdresser, who has equally passionate opinions on Barbra Streisand as Howard. Actually all of Howard's friends veer into this during the bachelor party scene, getting downright giddy over the Streisand movies they have lined up.
- Cast Full of Gay: Not actually, but poor, twice-rejected Emily thinks she's trapped in one. "Is EVERYBODY gay? Is this 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 Sonya is last seen dancing with Howard's brother. And Howard and Peter are heavily implied to be in a relationship as well.
- Chubby Chaser: Cameron is implied to be this, saying he liked Emily fine when she was fat.
- Closet Key: Peter for Howard, 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.
- The Comically Serious: Principal Halliwell often looks silly while trying to remain prim and dignified. During the Dance Party Ending, he stands around with a stiff look on his face, briefly tries waving his arms a little, then gives up and awkwardly tucks in his shirt.
- Coming-Out Story: Though he never at all realized he was in the closet.
- Coming Straight Story: Double-subverted. After being inadvertently outed on live television during an award acceptance speech from Cameron, Howard attempts to prove to people his heterosexuality exists. Only to realize, after much hilarity and many failed attempts, that he is gay.
- 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 fiancée for three years the Father immediately tells him this "friend" is gay.
- Contagious Laughter/Tension-Cutting Laughter: The friends of Howard's mom gather around, and inspired by him start to confess things too. The last one ("My husband has three testicles!") leads to awkward silence, and then these kinds of laugh.
- Corpsing: During the graduation scene near the end when everyone "comes out" in support of Howard, his pupil Meredith (Alexandra Holden) announces that she's "discovered" she's gay by rubbing her hands all over her body and screaming "Oh my God! Oh my God!" in an overexaggerated manner. While she's doing this, further down the row, you can see Lauren Ambrose (Vicky) just laughing her ass off and trying to hide her face. She even laughs as she stands up to say "Me too!"
- Cure Your Gays: Howard attempts this with a self-help tape. Done with hilarious results.
- Dance Party Ending: The Video Credits, set to "Macho Man". Yes, really.
- Dawson Casting: 17 year old high schooler Mike is played by a 27 year old actor who isn't fooling anyone.
- Did I Just Say That Out Loud??: Implied when Ms. Blazer says Vicky cant be gay because shes a tramp then freezes as there's a lot of murmuring to that.
- The Ditz:
- Carl, a One-Scene Wonder faculty member at Howard's high school.Carl: Why is everyone talking about Howard?
Mrs. Lester: Because he likes DICK, Carl!
Carl: Oh. [later] Dick who?
- 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.
- Carl, a One-Scene Wonder faculty member at Howard's high school.
- Easily Forgiven: Peter for ruining Howard's wedding and forcing him to admit that he is gay. Even after everything that happened, Howard forgives him and they end up dating a year later. Cameron too, for outing Peter on live television. Though he did feel sorry for what he done and went all the way to Greenleaf to make up for what happened.
- Fired Teacher: "Warnings" from the high school principal indicate that Howard will be one if he doesn't go through with the wedding (which would more or less confirm his homosexuality). After he comes out at the ceremony, he's fired via phone call offscreen.
- Forced Out of the Closet: Howard is outed by a former student live on national TV as he accepts an Oscar, and since everyone in this Indiana small town was watching the ceremony, literally every eye in the city was on Howard at that moment, meaning something had to be done. Funnily enough, this also ends up forcing Howard out of the closet in his own mind, as he legitimately had no idea he was gay up to that point.
- Foreshadowing: During the To Serve and Protect clip, when Cameron Drake's character is kicked out of the military for being gay, Howard's brother Walter is sincerely shocked and says "That's not right." In the final scene, Walter is the first to declare I Am Spartacus in Howard's defense.
- Formerly Fat: Emily
- Freudian Slippery Slope: "This is my Peter - my FRIEND, Peter. We just met at the, uh, intersexual... homosection... INTERSECTION!"
- Gay Panic: Subverted both in-universe & out.
- 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.)
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?:
- Howard before he lets the realization sink in.
- The Cure Your Gays self-help tape is peppered with tips along this mentality.
- High Heel Hurt: After the aborted wedding, one of Howard's relatives rests her feet on a chair and rubs them after taking off her high-heeled shoes.
- Hollywood Thin: Lampshaded with Cameron's model girlfriend, Sonya.Cameron: Eat something, I'm begging you. You look like a swizzle stick. It's unhealthy.
Sonya: Food?! Cameron, I'm warning you, I'm calling my agency!
- Incompatible Orientation:
- Howard and Emily. He realizes they are this at the altar.
- Also, Emily with Peter when Emily prepositions him.
- 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.)
- Instant Turn-Off: Howard attempts to have sex with Emily to prove in his own mind that he's not gay... only to look up and see the exercise video she's left on, Richard Simmons sweating to the oldies. He promptly freaks out and leaves.
- LGBT Awakening: Howard Brackett is a teacher who is outed by one of his former students on national television. Except that Howard doesn't believe he is gay. In fact, he's about to be married to a beautiful woman. However, as his friends start to consider the idea, they notice that the evidence is pretty strong. Eventually, after many shenanigans, Howard finally realizes that the evidence is so strong because it's true.
- Large Ham:
- Kevin Kline as Howard slips into this every other scene after he's outed.
- Emily, as a side effect of being played by Joan Cusack, is this even when she's calm.
- Likes Older Women: Cameron for Emily.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Cameron's reaction after watching the news and seeing his old teacher Howard become the subject of taboo and media scrutiny for "being gay". He feels so bad that he goes all the way from L.A to Greenleaf to apologize and fix things.
- Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer gives the impression that Howard actually is straight and Cameron was mistaken, and the movie is a farce about him trying to convince people of the truth.
- 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.
- Post-Kiss Catatonia: Howard, after getting a good ten second kiss from Peter.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!/Precision F-Strike: "FUCK! BARBRA! STREISAND!"
- Real Award, Fictional Character: The plot starts as a local boy made good accepts an Academy Award and outs his high school English teacher in his acceptance speech.
- 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; said teacher got a ridiculous amount of media attention in his hometown.
- Running Gag: Barbra Streisand, whom Howard likes and is thus frequently brought up to highlight his homosexuality.
- Shaming the Mob: Low-key example. 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.
- "Shut Up" Kiss: Peter plants one on Howard as he tries to help him come to accept his homosexuality, while Howard just wants to get married to his bride.Peter: You know what you need?
Howard: I need a wedding! I need a—!
- Situational Sexuality: Discussed by Howard's students about when is it okay to be gay.
- Straight Gay/Camp Gay: Howard and Peter both straddle the line, Peter leaning towards Straight and Howard towards Camp.
- Stunned Silence: Howard and Emily following Cameron's speech, Emily following Howard's own coming out.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: While it's a relief when Howard finally comes out, Emily is devastated to learn the man she was in love with had been deceiving her for three years (albeit unintentionally).
- Take That!:
- A more subtle example than most. The other nominees that Cameron Drake is up against for Best Actor include Paul Newman for Coot, Clint Eastwood for Codger, and Steven Seagal for Snowball in Hell. Ouch.
- The self-help tape Howard listens to tries to get him to stop dancing by making him think of Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Arnold doesn't dance! He can barely walk!"
- Talk to the Fist: Two in a row, Emily to Howard at the wedding, and Howard to Peter just outside.
- The Tape Knew You Would Say That: The entire "Exploring Your Masculinity" tape recording. The tape the main character buys in order to re-affirm his heterosexuality somehow knows that the main character is not doing what it asks him to do, knows he has fallen in a trap and, after the song it puts ends, it knows he has been dancing. It's implied he really just imagined this, though, since at the end it asks how he did.
- Title Drop: Peter tells Howard he plans to call his news story, "Howard Brackett: In and Out."
- Trans Equals Gay: Parodied. After the not-wedding, once Howard's come out, his father asks if he's going to "have an operation" (i.e. a sex reassignment), to which Howard replies, "Excuse me?"
- Transparent Closet: The protagonist Howard who keeps insisting he is straight after being outed, despite evidence such as Barbara Streisand tapes.
- Two Decades Behind: More like Four Decades Behind in the case of Greenleaf, Indiana. Though the movie takes place in the then-current '90s, the values displayed by the townsfolk indicate the city is more or less stuck in The '50s.
- Wham Line: In-Universe.
- Cameron Drake in the beginning thanking his teacher Howard (during his award acceptance speech)Cameron: Maybe I should thank someone else. Someone who's really been there, someone who taught me a lot, about poetry and Shakespeare, and just, y'know, stayin' awake, man. Someone who's just an overall great guy, a great teacher... to Howard Brackett from Greenleaf, Indiana!...and he's gay!
- Howard and Emily at their wedding when they're about to say "I do":Emily: ...I do.
Howard: ...I'm gay.
- Cameron Drake in the beginning thanking his teacher Howard (during his award acceptance speech)
- 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."
- Women Are Wiser: Downplayed, especially before Howard comes out (and with Emily's reaction afterwards), but his mom and her friends come to terms with things fairly quickly after the wedding (the first people seen doing so) and while Meredith and Vicky join their male classmates in being a bit awkward around Howard after the Oscars and speculating on gay stereotypes, they do defend him after the wedding while Jack and Mike react more poorly to the revelation.
- Writing Around Trademarks: Given AMPAS has serious restrictions regarding portraying the Academy Award ceremony on screen, employed heavily. At least they were lucky to have an actual Oscar statuette (Kevin Kline's own).