I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Last month’s Screened Out: Gay Images in Film series on Turner Classic Movies reached its low point when co-hosts Robert Osborne and Richard Barrios both disparaged the rarely seen 1969 film, Staircase, by Stanley Donen starring Richard Burton and Rex Harrison as an aging gay couple on the sidelines of swinging London. A rare Hollywood movie to depict gay experience with wisdom, humor and warmth, Staircase’s originality has caused it to be a lost treasure. That same unwarranted fate might await I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Though not quite in the class of Staircase, this Adam Sandler comedy similarly dares to shake-up received notions about homosexuality. Staircase explored gays’ fears about themselves, Chuck & Larry explores mainstream fears about gays.
Two heterosexual Brooklyn firemen, Chuck Levine (Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James), scheme to get domestic partner benefits; they aim to protect widowed Larry’s young children. This premise goes beyond sitcom gimmickry: first, by cleverly satirizing the human rights fiasco of government bureaucracy, then by lambasting homophobia through bold and cleansing humor. The script by Barry Fanaro and the Sideways and Election team of Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor has Chuck and Larry flaunt gay stereotypes in order to flout them. (There’s also a remarkable scene featuring the weirdly inspired comic Robert Smigel enacting a postman whose gaydar triggers an extraordinary litany of extended sex metaphors.)
As these firemen-lovers update the Odd Couple ruse, Sandler’s typical bratty humor rectifies the frat-boy mentality his fans might expect. Sandler and James skillfully liberate macho rigidity by spoofing gay and straight males’ skittishness. Chuck & Larry has more laughs per minute than any movie since Hot Fuzz. Half the fun is knowing how thoroughly these jokes will outrage the PC brigade—especially with other bad-boy gags in the mix. The ultimate moral lesson—that sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with who Chuck and Larry are as people—may seem simplistic, but the focus on humanity (including a traditional courtroom climax to restore society’s balance) proves that lesson is sound. This is no Staircase, yet Chuck & Larry ascends—past our seemingly instinctual prejudices. It’s a modern classic (despite a cheap-shot plug for Giuliani). By comparison, Hollywood’s most celebrated gay comedies—In and Out, Chuck and Buck, Blades of Glory, even the laughable Brokeback Mountain—were all failures of nerve.