As the minutes ticked down to the final vote that gave gay and lesbian New Yorkers equal marriage rights on Friday night, my thoughts turned to In & Out. The 1997 movie about Howard Brackett (Kevin Klein), an Indiana English teacher who finds himself at the center of a national media frenzy after a former student says he’s gay during an Oscar telecast on the eve of his wedding may have been the first time I saw an image of two men looking like they were about to exchange vows. And though the movie’s been overtaken by a tide of social and political change, it remains a surprisingly humane and funny film.
Much of the movie’s cultural resonance comes from the fact that it’s a great satire on popular culture that still works today. As the Oscar ceremony where it all goes down commences, viewers in Indiana mull over their ballots, voting for “something about Polish mineworkers and their struggle to be free,” and Glenn Close reads off the nominations for Best Actor, including “Paul Newman for Coot, Clint Eastwood for Codger, Michael Douglas for Primary Urges, and Steven Seagal for Snowball in Hell.” To Serve and Protect, the movie that earns Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) his Academy Award, is a pitch-perfect joke on both Forrest Gump and Philadelphia, which preceded it, and the prestigious gay movies like Brokeback Mountain and Milk that would follow in the next decade. The scene in the fake movie where Dillon’s obvious dolt character asks if a fellow soldier loves him “You mean as a friend?…You mean as a brother?…As a cousin?…You mean as a penpal?” alone is worth the price of admission. And seeing supermodel Shalom Harlow, as Drake’s ditzy model girlfriend, complain that she can’t go to Indiana because “I have to shower and vomit” is a nicely self-aware stab at the heroin chic look then at its height.