In & Out (1997)

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I miss Premiere magazine so much. Once a month,that cellophane-wrapped thud on the hall floor, after the postman had been by, struck joy in my heart. Specifically, I miss Paul Rudnick, that grade-A satirist whose campy sendups made me whoop with laughter. He was Libby Gelman-Waxner! But lo! Hollywood really did come calling to him hence his spot-on insider comments and this exquisitely rendered smalltown gayfest is true to classical tradition yet ever so sweetly rubs the generic nose in contemporary mores. Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is the inspirational smalltown Indiana high school English teacher who’s outed at the Academy Awards by his dimwit former student Hollywood actor Cameron Drake  (Matt Dillon) despite being three days from his very straight wedding to formerly fat colleague Emily Montgomery  (Joan Cusack). His wrist literally becomes limp when he’s called gay in front of billions of people. Mom Debbie Reynolds and dad Wilford Brimley want the wedding to go ahead and he’s sure he does too until showbiz correspondent Peter Malloy (Tom Selleck) waltzes into town with the other paparazzi  – and stays. Just wait for the Selleck-Kline clinch! Howard’s Barbra Streisand-themed stag night is all for naught as he recognises his true nature and battles with the authorities to keep his job while his students eventually do an ‘I Am Spartacus’ act at graduation and Cameron rides back into town in his white sports car to save the day. Great fun, hilarious jibes and Kline gives an extraordinarily precise comic performance in a beautifully rendered upside-down satire of American family movies. Reynolds is especially good as the mother who will just die without a day in church. This was of course inspired by Tom Hanks’ unwitting outing of his former high school teacher when he was collecting the Oscar for Philadelphia. Adeptly directed by comedy expert Frank Oz.

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Sleeping With the Enemy (1991)

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Julia Roberts’ stardom really is the touchstone for the Nineties. Here she’s the abused young wife of violent OCD psycho Patrick Bergin, that dashing Irishman who wears a black coat and a great moustache and has his finest cinematic moment to date in Map of the Human Heart, Vincent Ward’s masterpiece. The unloved-up mismatched couple live on the beach in modernist fabulosity while he lines up all the cans so that they face the right way out (just like David Beckham). It really is a shock to see him administer a beating to America’s happiest hooker. A boating accident leads him to believe she’s dead – but she’s in the middle of Cedar Falls, Iowa, donning drag and a nifty moustache with her new and bearded neighbour’s assistance to visit her disabled mom in a nursing home having faked her funeral six months earlier. This is meat and drink to director Joseph Ruben who is working with the Ron Bass/Bruce Joel Rubin adaptation of Nancy Price’s novel. There are no real surprises here if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like if Fatal Attraction were to be reversed with added Berlioz. Just remember:  it’s all about the facial hair.

A Star is Born (1937)

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So you find out that the film you are going to watch has … at least ten writers. But look at their names:  David O. Selznick, Ring Lardner, Jr., Ben Hecht, John Lee Mahin, Budd Schulberg, Adela Rogers St John. And they’re the UNCREDITED contributors?! The story was by director William Wellman, one of the unsung Hollywood reliables, along with Robert Carson. But in fact the ‘story’ was devised and written by St John for the earlier film, What Price Hollywood? (1932, Cukor) which is widely acknowledged as the inspiration here. St John was a close friend of Colleen Moore, whose marriage to publicist and producer John McCormick is presumed to be the source for the idea. The other actors upon whom Norman Maine may have been based include John Gilbert, John Barrymore, Norman Kerry and John Bowers aka John Bowersox. Movie lore has it that Bowers had killed himself the year before upon finding that his old friend Henry Hathaway had cast Gary Cooper in a role he had hoped would be his comeback. And the screenplay is by Dorothy Parker (‘men don’t make passes …’ etc.) and her husband Alan Campbell and Carson.  Helluva cast list, don’t you think? And that’s before we get to the meat of the film itself – a great performance by Janet Gaynor, who’d been in Hollywood since the silents, along with Frederic March as the fading star, in this disquisition on acting, fame, Hollywood, talent, booze, marriage and celebrity. And any film that can boast an actress with the moniker Trixie Friganza can’t be bad. This is the first, non-musical version of the story. In some people’s minds it might be the best but the 1954 version Judy Garland and James Mason is unforgettable. And for Barbra Streisand, well it’s Evergreen. Happy Easter.