Monday, January 2, 2012

Joan Cusack in In & Out

Joan Cusack received her second Oscar nomination for her performance as Emily Montgomery in Frank Oz's In & Out. Joan Cusack may just be the most unlikely two time Oscar nominee of all time. She's an actress known for her broad comedic performances and her two nominations are rare instances of the Academy recognizing her style of comedy. Of the two performances, In & Out is undoubtedly more over the top and consequently  the funnier one as well. The film is about a high school teacher named Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) who is accidentally outed as gay by a former student named Cameron Drake (Matt Dillon) when he accepts an Academy Award. This is probably the only film based on an Oscar acceptance speech (Tom Hanks' Best Actor acceptance for Philadelphia), which makes it a fun little watch for Oscarphiles. Cusack plays Brackett's long suffering girlfriend Emily, who was scheduled to me married to him days before this revelation.

For the first part of the film Cusack channels her natural dorky charm to play the role of a devoted girlfriend. That natural charm allows her to coast through this first section. She's cute, endearing, and appropriately spacey. Her voice may be annoying to some, but I find it to be an good tool to make her stand out and charm you even further. We're told through the dialogue that Emily has lost a lot of weight in anticipation of the wedding, and was formerly overweight. She even gets a funny workout sequence featuring Richard Simmons, the guru behind her weight loss. Joan Cusack never missteps here, doing a good job at making her character everything that it needs to be. She's just a naturally funny lady using all the tools she has to make this woman lovable. That is why this performance is such an odd one to be nominated--it's not one with particular depth or an emotional pull. It's just funny.

Where Cusack really gets to shine is after her character is left at the altar by Howard. Cusack's reactions are pure comedy gold as Emily struggles to understand why exactly Howard waited three whole years to tell her that he was gay. Her performance is all over the place after the wedding, which is exactly how it is supposed to be. She storms through the movie dressed in her wedding dress screeching at the top of her lungs, delivering some of the most hilarious line readings ever (my favorite: EXCUSE ME!). It's just a performance that is easy to enjoy and has some genuine laughs. If you aren't a fan of broad or physical comedy this performance will definitely not strike your fancy. Also, it is here that her voice may become annoying to some. You have to like Cusack to enjoy these parts. But there is so much fun to be had in this performance, and it's weightless in a good way.

However, the delightful nature of the performance also highlights a lot of its flaws. For one, the role really goes nowhere, developing into a trite romance with Matt Dillon's character. Also, for as funny as she is, Cusack never quite dips into being hilarious. She's luminous and easy to love, but not rolling on the ground riotous in the same way that say Dianne Wiest is in Bullets Over Broadway or Melissa McCarthy is in Bridesmaids. It's a solid comedic performance that in a stronger year wouldn't have come close to a nomination. Cusack is having the time of her life, and Oz lets her loose to do whatever she wants so the performance becomes chaotic. I really like Joan Cusack's performance in In & Out, and this review may have indicated that she would get a higher score from me, but this isn't an Oscar performance. There's a reason comedy never gets nominated, because you have to be great to deserve recognition, same as drama. It's harder to make comedy great, and Cusack doesn't quite do that. 3/5 Thelmas.

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