My plan was to begin this I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry review with the admission that I would be surprised if any of the film’s three writers had ever smoked a pole in their lives, but that theory was blown as soon as an IMDb search revealed that one of them was responsible for writing 24 episodes of The Golden Girls. Then it all made sense why this stupid but gracious comedy, essentially an apology by Adam Sandler and director Dennis Dugan for the homophobia of Big Daddy, suggests a drag act (it also explains why Richard Chamberlain and Steve Buscemi appear in bit roles). The film innocuously traffics in hetero and queer stereotypes, flipping the gay panic of Sandler’s core demographic when two very straight firefighters with a suspicious fondness for Under Armour performance gear (hello shills!) enter into a domestic partnership after one of them is unable to collect on his dead wife’s pension, only to step on its own toes and reveal its desperate need for gay validation.
A crucial scene pans out at a costume party where Chuck (Sandler) and Larry (Kevin James) are dressed, respectively, as a vampire and an apple, with the filmmakers making their commentary on sexual politics dully explicit. Rather than get their dance on, Chuck and Larry embrace and, as a result, get everyone else in the room to follow suit. “We have every right to be queer!” screams the lousy lesbian extra outside the party, before Larry clocks a religious zealot for saying the word faggot. (Compare this sweet but rather ingratiating nonsense to the toothy sequence—so loaded with unspoken meaning—from The Killing of Sister George where Beryl Reid and Sussanah York go to a surly lesbian bash dressed as Laurel and Hardy, and the triteness of this film’s show of empathy becomes especially apparent.) There are flashes of great wit here, like Larry’s son fabulously using his limber queerness as a weapon against a bully and a prolonged don’t-drop-the-soap set piece that makes giddy use of slow-mo, but the film’s humor rarely leaves a mark, its head stuck in TV Land and, in its placating tendencies, up Judd Apatow’s ass.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is pro-gay but it’s less interested in collapsing straight-male hang-ups about gay men than is in putting on a surprisingly mawkish show of political correctness against distinctly retrograde forms of homophobia. A better, less transparent film may have propped Chris Evans’s ass directly in front of Chuck’s face as an intimidating challenge to his pleasure principle. (The film reveals its casual racism by recognizing the closet case played by Ving Rhames as a physical threat but not a sexual one.) Instead, Jessica Biel’s booty stakes a non-challenge, gratifying Chuck’s progressive advances but also appeasing the film’s target audience for having to sit through what is essentially a 120-minute PSA. This is one of the stranger straight-male fantasies out there: The filmmakers sincerely believe that homophobia is easily resolved, but they seem to desperately want a cookie from the gay community for realizing that “the word faggot is a bad word.” Their vulgar self-congratulation compromises their goodwill.