Adam Sandler’s new film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is causing quite a stir. In the film, Chuck (Adam Sandler) and Larry (Kevin James) are New York firefighters (it doesn’t get any more heroic) who enter into a sham gay marriage. They are both very, very straight, but Larry needs to get married to secure some employment benefits for his children. They try a domestic partnership first, but it turns out not to be enough. So, they come to Canada, get hitched and go back home as a “married” couple.
The rest of the story plays out in the typical slapstick comedy form: a specialist (Steve Buscemi) investigates the couple to see if they are “really” gay, Chuck falls for the lawyer (Jessica Biel) but can’t do anything about it because he is supposed to be gay, the guys at the firehouse shun them, blah, blah, blah. Eventually it all turns out well, with the guys at the firehouse seeing the error of their ways and supporting Chuck and Larry.
What about the incessant gay jokes and stereotypes that are played out along the way? Apparently they are all part of the journey to end homophobia.
Damon Romine of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has defended the film. In a statement in the Boston Herald he says, “Through this disarming type of comedy, there is this use of stereotypes and slurs and it holds the mirror up for people to ask, ‘Where does this come from?’ At the end of the day this is a comedy that actually stresses the importance of family and treating others with dignity and respect. The film actually does send a very strong message.”
Others are rather less convinced, with reviewers and bloggers condemning the film as one big homophobic slur — or, at least, lots of little ones.
Then, of course, there is the rightwing. The Christian Film and Television Commission’s Ted Baehr, for example, has declared the film “one of the most anti-Christian films of the year” and “nothing more than anti-Christian, prohomosexual propaganda that attacks the traditional, Judeo-Christian moral values of American culture.”
Then there is the earnest, never-miss-an-opportunity-for-education response. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is urging viewers to visit 10couples.org to find out what it is really like to be in a same-sex relationship and denied legal protection.
“We hope that people realize that, while the film is funny, the idea of protections for same-sex relationships isn’t a joke,” says Matt Coles, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.
Rather than trying to determine if the film does more good than bad, it is probably more interesting to think about the film as a sign of the times — at least in the US, where gay marriage remains elusive in all but one state (civil unions are available in four others) and where Congress has actually debated whether or not to amend the Constitution to ban it.
The film is intended to weigh in and address the mall rat crowd in their own homophobic language. It tells us a lot about how far we haven’t yet come that this language is still seen as a useful delivery mechanism for an antigay message. Without trying to resolve the more-good-than-bad debate, it is at least possible that some of the mall rat crowd may swallow the tolerance message at the end of the film. After all, it’s their hero, Adam Sandler, saying it.
One thing is for sure: gay folks are not the intended audience, and it’s hard to imagine most being able to sit through it. But, gay folks might want to pay attention to the controversy surrounding the film, to take the temperature of the culture around us. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s still a bit chilly outside.