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Easy Outs.

By Jesse Fox Mayshark

MARCH 30, 1998:  None of my gay friends has had an easy time "coming out." Some tell only close friends but not co-workers; some tell one parent but not the other. Some have been effectively banished from their families. Others end up mediating fights between mothers and fathers over how to deal with the news. So it's interesting to see how lightly many recent gay-themed movies take that tough step.

Exhibit A is In & Out (1997, R), the Kevin Kline comedy that caught a lot of movie-goers off guard last year. Although it was marketed as a simple mistaken-identity farce—people think Kline, a small-town English teacher, is gay, but (ha ha) he's really not—the film has more to it. Kline in fact wrestles with his orientation, and as he does so In & Out gently (too gently) spoofs social conceptions of masculinity and sexuality. I'm not sure why Joan Cusack got an Oscar nomination for her part as Kline's would-be bride (she was a lot better in Grosse Pointe Blank). Still, there's plenty to like: Paul Rudnick's script has its share of funny lines, Kline is probably the smartest physical comedian in Hollywood these days, and Tom Selleck does a snappy turn as a gay tabloid TV reporter. But the movie ends up as an implausible bleeding-heart fantasy that doesn't so much grapple with issues as magically make them disappear. It's as if Rudnick wants people to overcome their bigotry without ever actually acknowledging it's there.

If In & Out is flawed, When Night is Falling (1997, R) is outright ludicrous. This glossy romance about a beautiful professor at a strict Canadian Christian school who falls in love with a beautiful circus performer makes it look like all the angst of coming to terms with sexual orientation can be resolved with one good romp in bed. The film is unsettling because it combines earnest preachiness about homophobia with lesbian lovemaking scenes that, while undeniably erotic, carry the incense-tinged whiff of soft-core porn. Writer/director Patricia Rozeman has a nice visual sense, but her dialogue is awkward and frequently laughable. Almost nothing about the movie rings true.

Somewhat more credible is The Incredible True Adventure of Two Girls in Lovea (1996, R), a good-natured high school drama about a popular preppy girl falling in love with a young lesbian from the wrong side of the tracks. It's appealing in the same way John Hughes' teen flicks were—think of it as Pretty in Pink in Doc Martens. Even so, the generally upbeat mood underplays the story's drama. And once again, the sex is unnecessarily graphic and seems exploitative of its young stars.

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