Sunday, June 3, 2007

By Their Fruits Shall Ye Know Them

When Brokeback Mountain became a middling hit a couple of years ago,there was speculation that its success might inspire Hollywood to dust off some long-stalled gay projects. Patricia Nell Warren's 1974 novel The Front Runner, about the love between an Olympic runner and his coach, or Peter Lefcourt's The Dreyfus Affair, about the coming out of a gay pro baseball player, were titles I saw mentioned. According to IMDB, both of those are scheduled for 2007 release, but only Dreyfus is listed as in production, meaning a script is being written. The Front Runner, like Jesus, has been on the verge of coming for a long time now. We'll see.

But now we're seeing the first fruits, so to speak, of Hollywood's new gay-friendliness: I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, starring Adam Sandler and Kevin James as two straight firefighters who pose as gay in order to get domestic partner benefits. Though it isn't scheduled for release until July, there's already a thriving controversy about Chuck and Larry in the IMDB message boards, based on the trailer. (One user reported having seen and enjoyed a preview screening.)

Based on the trailer, I see no reason whatsoever to see this film. (If someone else wants to pay for my ticket, I'll consider it, just so I can write about it from a better-informed perspective.) Not because it makes gays look bad, but because it makes straights look bad. Haw haw haw, at their wedding (a wedding? I guess a mere domestic partnership wasn´t funny enough) Sandler slugs James when he starts to obey the rabbi's (Chinese [though played by a gwailo in the true Hollywood tradition], with a thick accent and thicker glasses) instruction to kiss his new husband. The wedding is an expensive affair, but apparently there was no rehearsal, so the instruction apparently came as a complete surprise. Recovering his balance, Sandler explains that that's how they get it on in their household, and the rabbi leers approvingly. Haw haw haw, what fresh, inventive humor! Could I ever get tired of seeing a straight guy prove his manhood by violence at the threat of a man's lips on his, erm, lips? (And I'm just as annoyed when queens express disgust at the thought of kissing a woman. I've kissed a few women in my time, and a few straight guys have kissed me, without any detectable nausea. Bigotry is disgusting; kissing is not.)

But as I said, this all makes straights look bad, not gays. Not that Sandler's going to relax and give James a smooch later on, I daresay. The hot city attorney (Jessica Biel, looking a bit leathery, but I'm not a straight boy) who investigates the pair to see if they're really gay, decides to seduce Sandler (whose boyish charms, such as they are, are fading). So there are numerous shots of Biel undressing in front of Sandler, assuring him that her breasts are real, etc., while Sandler drools like a bloodhound over a bowl of fresh chopped liver. Haw haw haw, what creativity! Who's ever seen anything like this before, a straight guy going cross-eyed over a pair of female breasts? Just in case you might suspect that Adam Sandler might be turning queer, even in a movie; don't worry, boys and girls, they checked his pulse and other vital signs after the daily breast exposures, and he's still All Man.

It's really daring of Paramount to blaze this trail. Of course, this trail is already as well travelled as, erm, well, you know, I don't think I'll go there. Anyway, Chuck and Larry appears to be a cross between Some Like It Hot (which was a lot more daring, even for the early 21st century let alone the 1950s), the Hope-Crosby Road movies that featured a lot of fag jokes, and a green-card comedy like Green Card or Ang Lee's The Wedding Banquet. (Mark Rappaport´s documentary The Silver Screen: Color Me Lavender contains a good look at the male-anxiety fag jokes in the Road movies, by the way.)

In The Wedding Banquet, a gay Chinese pretends to be straight to provide a young Chinese woman with a green card, and incidentally trick his parents into stop nagging him to get married. It has plenty of humor, plus some pathos, and its relatively weak production values don't get in the way. The Wedding Banquet did quite well, both in the US and in Lee's native Taiwan, and stayed popular enough to be remade as a stage musical. Fourteen years later, emboldened by the breakthroughs of GLBT independent cinema, Hollywood is still giving us shite like Chuck and Larry.

But hey, I'm the very model of a modern post-modernist -- I know there's no such thing as progress. I don't think Chuck and Larry will do any real harm; it's just a symptom, not a cause, of the homophobia that still saturates American society. If it confuses marriage with civil union with domestic partnership, well, most Americans (including gay ones) are confused. I don´t object to gay humor itself; I was very entertained, for example, by The Naked Gun movies, which portrayed Lt. Frank Drebin (Leslie Neilsen) as a pious homophobe with a weakness for men. ("Sex, Frank?" "Uh, no, not right now, Ed.") If Adam Sandler's character were to turn out to have been a regular in the Ramble (the infamous cruising area of Central Park) in between scouring the singles bars for babes, that might be funny. Or funnier, at least. And of course there have been plenty of gay comedies, where gay men and lesbians made fun of our own foibles, often to hilarious effect. Straight people are welcome to laugh at us with us, as far as I'm concerned. But, even if Chuck and Larry contains a few liberal platitudes about the importance of tolerance and acceptance for Them (i.e., Us), this kind of comedy is concerned with keeping the boundaries sharply and clearly defined. It's been done, you know? On the basis of the trailer and the excuses that are already being made for Chuck and Larry, I'm not even slightly tempted to spend my money to see it.