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When first I saw this film, it was May 3, 2014. I found it well-written, well-acted, well-directed, charming and ultimately fatuous.
It's a film about an English teacher so deep in the closet that he doesn't even realize he's gay; his protests throughout the film could be read as lies and evasions, but to my eyes Howard Brackett was simply oblivious to his own sexuality. Once the clue-by-four finally hits him, the film switches to an examination of the fallout on his life. It portrays small-town life well, with random characters wandering in and out of the narrative at random times (though all of them are distinct enough to be easily recognizeable) and falls back on a sweet, if a little predictable, I Am Spartacus ending.
It feels so underwhelming today.
Brackett is theoretically the main character, but in some ways he's almost a MacGuffin Girl; the second half of the film, once he's out, is less about him and more about the town. He's also limited to Tertiary Sexual Characteristics; he's prissy and color-coordinated and loves Barbra Streisand, but he never actually does anything gay, such as express romantic or sexual interest in another man. There's a jarring thread of heteronormativity woven through the narrative. It talks down to the audience in a way that suggests heavy Executive Meddling... or perhaps the creators hedging their bets. It was Fair for Its Day—indeed, it was probably enlightened, given its Happy Ending—but for me a serious case of "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny set in.
But then it made me think. There's a Why Waste a Wedding? ending that today would have involved Howard marrying a man, but instead involves his parents renewing their vows. Howard is fired for being a "deviant", since there's no law against doing so, but widespread civil protest contests the decision. Tom Selleck, one of the manliest men alive, plays not a Hard Gay but a Straight Gay. If this movie were remade today, it'd be substantially more forward about homosexuality... and that's impressive, considering it's less than twenty years old. Look how far we have come in that time.
Is this a groundbreaking work? No, not anymore; we've outgrown it. But it's still a fun feel-good movie, and even its datedness is inspiring in its own way.
After 20 years, I still watch this movie sometimes. It still has its sweet moments and its funny moments have remained funny. Just watching it is a joy and I know I'll have a good time laughing.
Unfortunately, the movie is horribly dated. Homosexuality isn't that big of a taboo subject anymore and people are much more open about other types of sexuality, so the sudden outing of Howard via TV doesn't come across as shocking anymore. But the prejudice and discrimination towards Howard, before it's even clear if he is or isn't gay, is still pretty harsh and comes off as worse than it did back then.
Despite the dated behavior towards gays, I would recommend people watch this movie. It's funny and has one of the best movie kisses in it.
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