I wanted to hate I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. Two straight guys pretending to be gay (insert fiscal excuse here) — been there, done that (insert all known variants on The Odd Couple here). Rampant homophobia hiding behind liberal pleas for tolerance: blech. And it’s true that stereotypes pour out of Chuck & Larry like cheap wine. But to the degree that it’s anything other than a showcase for Adam Sandler, the movie is about the inseparability of homophobia and deep sexual anxiety. And what better force field for that little can of worms than a Brooklyn firehouse?
Stalled in grief for his dead wife and worried about providing for his children, firefighter Larry (King of Queens‘ Kevin James) refuses to remarry a woman just for benefits. But when he discovers a new clause allowing for gay partner benefits, he asks his best friend, Chuck (Adam Sandler), to fake a marriage. It’s a stretch to buy nerdy Sandler, whose character likes to entertain whip-toting Hooters girls in his horribly decorated bachelor pad, as a Lothario, let alone as Mr. February in the fire-station calendar. But love him or hate him, Sandler understands, if sometimes more in the breach than in the observance, that winking at the audience can derail a comedy in seconds. If you’re going to offend liberal sensibilities, you have to go all the way. For all the sitcom capering, he and James play out their skittish partnership absolutely straight.
Astonishingly, Chuck & Larry‘s screenplay is credited to Sideways team Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Chuck & Larry‘s studied crassness warms up the writing team’s chic nihilism, though one might assume a heavy rewrite by co-screenwriter Barry Fanaro, late of The Golden Girls, or director Dennis Dugan, whom we have to thank for Big Daddy and Happy Gilmore. Still, all involved go at it with such beguiling gusto and heart that I totally bought the movie’s dust-covered message about the primacy of friendship over sexual preference. It is far worse to be a jerk than to be homo-, hetero- or any other kind of sexual, and listening to Chuck and Larry defend their union to an austere city councilman (yes, that is Richard Chamberlain), you, too, will be willing to bare your hairy bottom for AIDS research. Don’t ask.