There are none so straight as those who pretend to be gay. That seems to be the premise of Adam Sandler’s latest slacker comedy. But its mild pleasures are spoiled by its belief that homophobic humor can be somehow sanitized by a cheesy Shylock-ripoff speech about how it’s who we are as people that really matters. As if.
Sandler and Kevin James play firefighters womanizer Chuck and widower Larry, who enter into a domestic partnership so that Larry can protect his pension. When the city investigates them on suspicion that they are lying about their relationship to defraud the city in order to get benefits, they have to find a way to persuade everyone around them that their relationship is authentic. That includes getting married in Canada wearing matching yarmulkes, moving in together, sleeping in the same bed, making comments like “we’ve been having lots of sex,” and answering questions about “who’s the girl.”
They also need to hire a lawyer, and of course it turns out to be a sympathetic bombshell played by Jessica Biel. The usual humiliations and misunderstandings ensue, as does the usual happily ever after (and resoundingly heterosexual) ending.
While the characters plead for acceptance, the movie’s humor is mostly based on the premise that gay men are shrill, high-strung basket cases, that any man would be disturbed to find out that his son might be gay, and that being gay is not just “other” but downright ooky. Just to make sure that we get the point, there is also some attempted humor based on Sandler’s character being hugely attractive to women, who universally and happily agree to every possible sexual variation he can fantasize, including, of course, a complete absence of commitment or tenderness. This is not an idea the movie makes fun of – it is a fundamental assumption necessary to buy into many of the comic situations. It is supposed to be funny that his character even has sex with an unattractive, unpleasant woman (who somehow becomes kittenish and submissive as a result of the encounter). In addition, Rob Schneider plays an Asian so caricatured it makes the WWII-era portrayals of Tojo seem subtle. Presumably, this is all right because Schneider himself is half Filipino. This is exactly the same misbegotten presumption that brings a sense of smarmy hypocrisy to the film, undermining not just humor but good humor.
In the beginning of the film, Chuck asks two women to kiss each other in a provocative manner, doubly transgressive because they are not just same-sex but twin sisters. This is portrayed as thrilling for all the he-men in the fire department. But at the end of the film, the prospect of a same-sex kiss for Chuck and Larry is just so disgusting to the two men who can run into a burning building without a second thought, such a deeply threatening assault on their manhood that it outweighs everything else. They can lie to people they care about, they can betray the trust of colleagues, friends, and children, they can defraud the system, but after all of their big talk about how they are both “big-time fruits” who enjoyed wrestling other boys a little too much in high school, the idea of big, strong, men getting weak in the knees over a kiss is not just a distraction but a decision that brings the movie’s story and comic sensibility down like a house of cards.
Parents should know that the MPAA is right about this one when it says there is “crude sexual content throughout.” There are a great deal of very vulgar terms and references to both gay and straight sex, including multiple partners (separately and all at once), pornography (porn shown to a child to “help” him not be gay), a fun doll, lubricant, sexual arousal, a joke about prison rape, and some potty humor. There are some skimpy clothes and we see brief nudity in the shower. Characters smoke and drink and there is a reference to marijuana. They use some four-letter words. There is some peril (characters injured), comic violence, and references to sad deaths. While the movie purports to be on the side of tolerance and equality, it engages in a lot of stereotyping and homophobic humor.
Families who see this movie should talk about what it is that people fear most about those who are different. Why was Alex someone who made Chuck “not want to be a jerk?” Does this movie have mixed messages?