I can’t speak to the achievement of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry within the Adam Sandler oeuvre. Geeky Jews are totally my type, but Sandler’s never suited my taste in comedy. His enormous popularity has always seemed one of those straight things I’ll never understand, like the widespread delusion that Scarlett Johansson can act. Having recently registered for domestic partnership with my geeky Jew (hi, Glen!), and long annoyed by Hollywood homosexuals (suck my balls, Philadelphia), I approached “the Adam Sandler gay-marriage movie” with a little curiosity and a lot of baggage (made in Paris, Martin Margiela).
There are faggot jokes and flaming galore in Chuck and Larry, a movie that exploits gay stereotypes even as it mounts (from behind) an ingenious dismantling of homophobia. Made by straight people for straight people, this lowbrow comedy about super-butch firemen (Sandler and Kevin James) faking a gay marriage is a very queer landmark indeed. No joke, the bar has been raised, not least on the potential of “don’t drop the soap” routines.
Somewhere in the cafeteria at GLAAD headquarters, girlfriend is about to choke on her quiche, but here goes: Tremendously savvy in its stupid way, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is as eloquent as Brokeback Mountain, and even more radical. “The gay cowboy movie” liberated desires latent in the classic western, and made them palpable (and palatable) by channeling them into the strictures of another genre, romantic tragedy. Progressive values were advanced by a retreat to a traditional mode of storytelling, the love that dare not speak its name rendered intelligible through the universal language of the upscale weepy.
Chuck and Larry takes this strategy much further, baiting a far less adventuresome demographic. Gay themes won’t deter the Sandler cult, who can rely on their man not to be a fag. And that, precisely, is the canny maneuver here. Our pussy-loving men’s men are New York City firefighters to boot, the very embodiment of all-American heroism (and object of gay fetishism). Sandler’s womanizing bachelor Chuck Levine reluctantly agrees to play the homo husband of his buddy Larry Valentine to help secure pension benefits for Larry’s kids—one of whom, a flaming little ‘mo named Eric (Cole Morgan), likes to practice numbers from Pippin in an outfit inspired by Flashdance. Oh, snap! Chuck and Larry is the first movie to effectively hijack that all-purpose justification for right-wing bigotry, “protecting the children,” and redeploy it as a weapon of the homosexual intifada.
Where the clowning queers of Birdcage invite us to laugh at their antics, the faux-mos in Chuck and Larry disarm prejudice by unabashedly reveling in its idiotic assumptions. “I used to wrestle in high school,” is the gayest thing Chuck can think of, “and, uh, I liked it.” The movie isn’t effective despite the egregious gay stereotypes; it couldn’t work without them. Through the medium of an Adam Sandler comedy, with all the requisite vulgarity, we’re given access to what it feels like to be ostracized, to live under false pretenses, to suffer a sham marriage. It does with crass what Brokeback did with class, slipping dangerous sentiments into the safest of genres.
This sodomite had a gay old time. The coup of the movie is that Sandlerites will, too. They’re the ones unmistakably addressed in the courtroom climax, the moment when Chuck and Larry confess their deceptions and assert their principles. Momentarily possessed by remarkable authenticity, Sandler seems to step out of character as he appeals to the crowd to stop using the word “faggot.” I’ve used it a lot myself in the past, he says in a manner less like a line reading than a mea culpa, but it hurts the same way it does if you called me a kike.
Sandler feels like the authentic auteur of that sentiment, even if the words are credited to Barry Fanaro, a writer-producer of The Golden Girls, and the writing team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, creators of two or three of the most acclaimed American movies of the past 10 years. It’s impossible to know how much of the final script derives from the authors of Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways, and how much flowed from the pen responsible, most recently, for Men in Black II. Kudos to all. I have never heard the cause of gay equality more delectably phrased than as “the right to put whatever you want up your ass.”