My 12-year-old daughter Kit and I went to the movies last night. I was the only person there over 20. And as I think about it, we were among the only females in the theatre. It makes sense. After all, we were seeing an Adam Sandler movie -- I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
I had to see it. I was beyond curious. You see, I stood up for Adam Sandler once during my tenure as the executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Adam Sandler's best friends from college fell in love and played a strong supporting role (albeit stereotypical) in the Sandler hit Big Daddy. I argued for its nomination for a GLAAD Media Award that year. My position was that Sandler was reaching a critical audience -- pimply teenage boys -- and that he deserved recognition for his choice to be inclusive.
In that movie, Sandler was very comfortable with his gay pals. In fact. he was the voice of reason in numerous situations in which others were uncomfortable. "They just watch different porn," he said. And after the two men kiss and another friend expresses discomfort, Sandler says matter-of-factly, "That's what gay guys do."
Chuck and Larry is different. There is something about it that feels duplicitous and I left the theatre mad. Sandler has done something ingenuous. The pimply teenage boys love gay jokes. Sandler knew he would get great mileage from playing a flagrantly heterosexual homophobe surrounded by men dressed as butterflies and young sissies in tap shoes. And the weekend box office results prove it -- Sandler beat Potter this weekend -- $34.8 million to $32.2 million.
But here's the ingenuous part. There's a second movie hiding in there but you can only see it if you wear your special gay decoder glasses.
There is the hilarious movie in which Adam Sandler plays a total sexist pig who agrees to pretend to be gay to help out his friend who needs pension benefits. That film uses words like "butt pirate" to great comic effect.
Then there is the film you can see only with the special glasses. In this one, the premise is the same but the sexist pig is changed by the experience. He reaches a greater understanding of issues facing the gay community as well as a greater understanding of what it really means to be in a relationship. In this version of the film, there are sweet and preachy moments and you must ignore the use of words like "butt pirate."
In one scene, Chuck and Larry leave an AIDS benefit to find protesters waiting outside. Chuck gets called a faggot and slugs one of them. In the first movie, the one reaching the folks who drove the $34.8 million, you see Chuck's motive clearly -- that being called a faggot gives you license to slug. In the gay-friendly version, the audience sees Sandler sticking up for his "peeps."
The pimply teens will only remember the, slow-motion, aborted kiss. They will remember that it was hilarious. With my decoder glasses, I can appreciate that they were willing to go that far (and in public no less!). The boys will remember the big African American firefighter dancing and singing "I'm Every Woman" in the locker room shower. In my version, I pick up on that accepting look on Chuck's face while the rest of the men look on in horror and get the 'change of heart' message.
Having defended Sandler once before, my gut tells me that Chuck's "change of heart" was always an integral part of the plot line but that message did not hit its intended target. And I hope that Sandler will use the platform he has to communicate that message more directly to the kids bringing him so much success.
There's a courtroom scene at the end of the film. The judge rules in Chuck and Larry's favor and the courtroom crowd bursts into applause with lots of cheering. There were about eight pimply teens two rows behind us. They began to cheer, too. I turned to see the looks on their faces but Kit didn't have to. She leaned over and said, "They are not really cheering cheering." I knew what she meant. The technical term for what they were doing rhymes with cheering. It's called jeering.
Nope, the boys were not cheering. And neither was I.