I hate to think the worst, especially of one of our most reliably compassionate American filmmakers, but is this troubling to anyone else?
Is there somewhat of a discrepancy here?
–Payne: “You can’t make a joke out of the subject matter. “
–The title of the film will be I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Yes, Payne may have made me pointlessly self-conscious every time I pick up a bottle of merlot, but I have bent over backwards defending his earlier work in the face of both the outsized Sidways acclaim (it’s really not as measured or nuanced as his earlier films) and the predictable backlash it incited (but it’s really pretty good, anyway). When I often dub Payne as “compassionate” or “humanist”, far more so than even the milder Wes Anderson, I’m met with eye-rolls. Yes, Election is “cynical” (yawn) and About Schmidt “pokes fun at its characters” (zzzzz….), but both of those films locate within broad comic conventions a gorgeous calm that elides most other filmmakers, as well as an infinite sadness and melancholy that only someone who believes in inherent goodness can muster up without seeming disingenuous. Compare the unforced tears shed by Jack Nicholson at the close of About Schmidt, which express the inexpressible need for a compassion that defies national and emotional boundaries, with those that spring from Bill Murray at the climax of The Life Aquatic, shoe-horned in for its audience’s catharsis, and about as convincing as the claymation Jaguar shark that circles the submarine.
So it is without trepidation that I follow Payne into any territory. Yet this one sounds fearful. It’s the first mainstream film to deal with the issue– call it hot-button if you want, but rather than denigrate it as a “contemporary social problem,” let’s just talk of it as an essential human right, outrageous that it has taken so long to be put on the table. But I digress — sadly to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Of course, this is all based on one little item, and we should all give it a chance before it’s even in the can, but my outrage is based upon the knowledge that not only will the production not meet any conflict, it will probably be fully embraced by GLAAD, which last year nominated for its Outstanding Wide-Release Film Award for positive gay images, ahem, let me clear my throat of its bile, such progressive films as Monster and Alexander. And yes of course, Outstanding Comedy Series is the endless minstrelsy Will and Grace. It’s a far cry from even the friggin 1930’s, in which the NAACP rightfully threw an outcry for each infraction, trying to stop Gone with the Wind in its earliest stages of development, and constantly taking to task those such as Louise Beavers and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson for perpetuating stereotypes.
Of course, the same has never been true for depictions of gay stereotypes, and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry may indeed be groundbreaking in that way that only mainstream movies can be…i.e., not at all. The only way to make this work is to present it as the non-issue that it should be, not to emphasize the inherent oddness of the pairing in its very title…and for God’s sake not to invoke the title of that godawful thing Chuck & Buck, a “Gay for Dummies” treatise in which homosexuality is linked to damaged childhood obsession and infantilization…not to mention as something that can be corrected and “gotten over.”
The bottom line is that it might be irresponsible to make a rollicking gay marriage comedy at this point. Undoubtedly, the “straight” actors hired to play the roles will find prime opportunities to wink at the camera, and the whole occasion will play as high farce. And if comedy itself is meant to elicit laughs from a complacent audience through juxtapositions of what is socially acceptable and what isn’t, then I can think of nothing less suitable for mass consumption right now, whether it be for the bigoted masses hoping for Birdcage redux or the gay audiences themselves who will lap it up in hopes of…well…Birdcage redux..
And all this on the same week as Sandra Day O’Connor’s announcement….