Gay director John Waters once brilliantly summed up what’s wrong with most Hollywood movies – he’d slip into a mopey Eeyore voice and note, “They learned.” Most mainstream narratives provide their protagonists with a series of little mini-epiphanies, the kind we rarely get in real life, so the characters (and, by extension, the audience) can learn something.
And boy, do people learn things in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, the dopey Adam Sandler-Kevin James comedy (complete with GLAAD seal of approval) about straight guys whose minds are opened when they have to masquerade as a gay couple.
Gay film industry observers have had twinges of concern over this project for years – at one point it was announced as a vehicle for Will Smith and Nicolas Cage – and those twinges turned into full-on anxiety once audiences got a look at the trailer, which features Sandler smacking James in the face during their wedding so as to get out of kissing him.
While it’s very easy to eviscerate Chuck and Larry from an activist point of view – the pre-enlightened Sandler makes jokes about “Olympic Baton Swallowing,” while Dan Aykroyd tells the leads, “What you shove up your ass is your own business” – all one really has to do to slam the flick is look at the lazy, contrived writing and the traffic-cop direction by frequent Sandler accomplice Dennis Dugan (Big Daddy, Happy Gilmore).
Oh, here’s a Dennis Dugan fun fact – back when he was a full-time actor (he makes a cameo here as a homophobic Niagara Falls cabbie whom Sandler and James pummel), he played an embarrassingly mincing, “Fabulous!”–spouting poof in a ludicrous comedy called Norman, Is That You? That 1976 film starred Redd Foxx as a man who tries to “cure” his gay son; the ensuing 30 years seems to have done little for Dugan’s taste in queer comedy.
Plot-wise, Chuck and Larry emulates another squirmy old homophobic comedy, 1969′s The Gay Deceivers. That earlier film was about two straight guys who pretended to be a gay couple to dodge the draft; after moving in together, they face scorn and ridicule from friends and family. If only Chuck and Larry were that realistic – in this movie’s universe, homosexuality actually does proffer “special rights,” in that firefighter Larry (James) can only transfer his pension benefits from his late wife to his children by getting a domestic partnership with best friend and fellow fireman Chuck (Sandler). (Already the plot police are turning on their sirens – for starters, wouldn’t the wife have had a will leaving everything to the kids if she and Larry were both dead?)
Anyway, skirt-chasing Chuck is reluctant at first – “Domestic partnership? You mean like faggots?” – but eventually acquiesces because Larry saved his life, leaving Chuck in his debt. At first they just fill out the paperwork and go along as usual, but when a creepy bureaucrat (Steve Buscemi, blowing all his gay karma from Parting Glances) starts investigating them for possible fraud, Chuck has to move in with Larry and begin faking domestic life together. Putting together an evidence trail on the advice of their lawyer (Jessica Biel), the men travel to Canada to get married, which leads us to a tacky wedding chapel owned by a Japanese man, played by Rob Schneider.
Yes, that’s right – in a movie that’s already flirting with homophobic slurs (which we’re supposed to forgive because everyone learns by the end) and ridiculous gay characters (there’s not one non-flitter in the bunch), the filmmakers throw in yellowface for good measure. The queer stuff in Chuck and Larry isn’t awful enough to merit protests, but Asian actors would have every right to picket this movie for working stereotypes that were cringe-worthy when Mickey Rooney shouted, “Miss Gorightry! I must plotest!” in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).