I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry
Director : Dennis Dugan
Screenplay : Barry Fanaro and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2007
Stars : Adam Sandler (Chuck Levine), Kevin James (Larry Valentine), Jessica Biel (Alex McDonough), Dan Aykroyd (Captain Tucker), Ving Rhames (Duncan), Steve Buscemi (Clinton Fitzer), Nicholas Turturro (Renaldo Pinera), Allen Covert (Steve), Rachel Dratch (Benefits Supervisor), Richard Chamberlain (Councilman Banks), Nick Swardson (Kevin McDonough), Blake Clark (Crazy Homeless Man)
In I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, Adam Sandler and Kevin James play Chuck Levine and Larry Valentine, two uber-masculine, unfailingly heterosexual New York City firefighters who pretend to be a married gay couple so that Larry can keep his pension benefits for his two children. It's an immediately grabbing, headline-ripping kind of high-concept comedy, and the fact that Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Election, Sideways) had a hand in writing it is almost enough to minimize the cringe factor induced by the fact that Adam Sandler is headlining. Unfortunately, it turns out to be much more Big Daddy than Citizen Ruth in its socially minded comedy (for the record, the lead screenwriter is Barry Fanaro, who worked on television for many years before cowriting The Farrelly Brothers' Kingpin and Men in Black II).
Larry is a widower who still pines away for his wife; Chuck, on the other hand, is a sex-obsessed lothario in gold chains and a heavy Brooklyn accent, a role that Sandler pulls off fairly well until the movie nose-dives into overkill in a scene in which we're meant to believe that he has not only the entire wait staff of a Hooter's restaurant in his bedroom, but also a beautiful medical doctor who he has completely cured of her self-respect. Larry is perturbed by the fact that his young son (Cole Morgen) is more into singing and dancing than swinging a bat in Little League, but that doesn't stop him from coming up with his cockeyed plan to play gay with Chuck if it means ensuring that his kids are taken care of in the event of an accident.
As a Hollywood project, Chuck & Larry is an oddball specimen. Obviously aimed at the twentysomething male demographic that would sooner hurl themselves off a cliff than admit to liking a Meryl Streep movie or knowing the lyrics to an ABBA song, it is also very clearly intended as a message movie, and the awkwardness with which it plows into delivering said message is its greatest weakness. Director Dennis Dugan, who has teamed with Sandler on numerous other largely unfunny movies, directs with slapstick abandon, piling on the gay stereotypes and creating a frenzied atmosphere of homophobic hysteria before winding his way to a finger-pointing finale in which we're supposed to feel bad for having laughed earlier. Of course, the trap is aimed at those who would find the film's gay-baiting jokes funny, and most of them just aren't. And, in case anyone wants to accuse the movie of homophobia, the filmmakers have built in a gay stamp of approval by parading not only Richard Chamberlain, but Lance Bass across the screen.
As is typical in many Adam Sandler films (and this is, above all, an Adam Sandler film), the flat jokes are balanced with stunt casting, some of which works better than others. Ving Rhames, glowering and bulked up, plays a newly transferred firefighter who comes out of the closet with gusto when he sees Chuck and Larry living happily ever after, and while Rhames' effeminate charms feel largely forced, he does have one grandiose and quite hilarious shower scene that involves him singing “I'm Every Woman” to a crowd of stunned firefighters. Much better is the always reliable Steve Buscemi as Clinton Fitzer, a weasely insurance fraud investigator who takes a little too much pleasure digging through people's garbage and pulling papers out of his absurd fanny pack. And then, of course, there's an unbilled Rob Schneider as the Asian-Canadian hotel manager who marries Chuck and Larry, in the process managing to make Mickey Rooney's wince-inducing Japanese shtick in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) seem PC.
Ultimately, what grinds most about I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry isn't its tired gags or its mediocre direction, but its insincerity. Sure--Sandler delivers an impassioned monologue about why the word “faggot” is bad and the movie is padded with plenty of scenes in which Chuck and Larry learn what it's like to be on the receiving end of prejudice (delivered, of course, by a rabid fundamentalist played by Rob Corddry, just in case there were enough stereotypes and caricatures already).
But it's hard to escape the feeling that the filmmakers are inherently uncomfortable with everything they're portraying, which is why anything even remotely gay in the movie has to be flaming gay. It brings to mind Homer Simpson's declaration that he likes his beer cold, his TV loud, and his homosexuals flaming; anything that might smack of nuance or substance might actually challenge the audience's preconceptions. The caricatured nature of it all, along with Jessica Biel as a pro-gay lawyer who naturally ends up soaking wet in her underwear at one point, is meant to be the milkshake the audience can use to swallow the bitter pill of tolerance. The makers of Chuck & Larry probably think they've accomplished something meaningful, but what they've really done is make a gay Soul Man.
Copyright ©2007 James Kendrick
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