I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
Dir. Dennis Dugan
Premiered July 12, 2007
Larry Valentine (Kevin James) and Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) are firefighters and good friends. Recently widowed, Larry wants to amend his pension so that his two children can be the beneficiaries if he dies on the job. After learning that he can’t change beneficiaries without a major life event (his wife’s death apparently doesn’t count because he waited to long after to do the paperwork; in real life, absolutely none of this is legally necessary), Larry saves Chuck’s life on the job, and asks Chuck to return the favor by entering into a fraudulent domestic partnership, a legal status invented as a half-measure by some US States when gay marriage was still new and scary.
Initially hoping to just sign some papers and get away with their scheme, they soon discover that the City of New York is investigating them for fraud, and have to keep up appearances by getting a full marriage in Canada. Of course, Chuck and Larry are varying shades of homophobic: Chuck’s a raging lothario, and while Larry’s more kindhearted, he still worries that his young son might be gay based on his interest in song and dance. But under the spotlight of the macho fire department, they begin to open their hearts.
If that plot sounds even remotely serviceable, it’s because this wasn’t always a Happy Madison production. Patch Adams director Tom Shadyac began developing the project in 1999, with Nicolas Cage and Will Smith starring, and commissioned a screenplay from Barry Fanaro that was then re-written by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne, who brought us Election and Sideways. Payne’s films are famous for their dark but accessible humor, and even if their version would probably have been okay at best, a surprising amount of their signature style comes through, especially in the first act. Unfortunately, it is negated at every moment by the myriad changes made when Sandler’s Happy Madison outfit took over production.
Like 2004’s 50 First Dates, Happy Madison’s additions to the script are immediately identifiable, wildly at odds with the original tone and sensibility, and betray a strange fixation with butch middle-aged women. Unlike that film, the additions directly undercut the film’s message, and insert a buffet of bizarre, bigoted ideas.
Yes, Chuck and Larry are supposed to be offputting in their homophobia, but that arc doesn’t make sense if everyone else feels the same way as they do. A major plot point revolves around a city inspector’s (Steve Buscemi) doubts that the two are a real couple because their garbage isn’t stereotypical enough. Larry’s ambiguous son runs screaming from the image of a nude woman. “Pitching” and “catching” are treated as mutually exclusive, including by gay characters who, inasmuch as they appear at all, are mostly depicted as predatory and/or shrieking flamers straight out of a forgotten Carter-era sitcom.
The result of this mishmash of ideas is a film that constantly tries to have its cake and eat it too. Nearly every scene begins by attempting to make a joke at the expense of Chuck and Larry’s ignorance, but it’s inevitably followed up with some hoary old cliché that only confirms that ignorance. I’m no handwringing PC obsessive; they could have easily made a dark but crowdpleasing comedy about gay marriage without bending over backwards to assure the viewers that they think dem homos are gross too, but instead they did exactly that. That’s not even getting into Rob Schneider’s random yellowface routine, which makes Mickey Rooney turn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s look nuanced and respectful.
But you know this. It’s a Happy Madison picture. It exists to exist. You know what’s in it. You know who’s in it. We’ve all reached that point, sometime after Happy Gilmore, when we realized this shit wasn’t funny anymore. For me, it was the abominable Eight Crazy Nights, though I wasn’t totally honest with myself about it until Anger Management. As a result, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry feels more perfunctory than any bad comedy I’ve seen on this project. And now it’s done.
Signs This Was Made in 2007
Gay marriage isn’t legal in New York yet. “Fierce” is a normal adjective. And in the most 2000s flourish of all, there’s a cameo by MySpace celebrity/future nonwhite white supremacist Tila Tequila as part of an all-Asian harem of Hooters waitresses.
This is the second movie in 2007 to culminate in a courtroom scene wherein Adam Sandler was the defendant.
While putting out a fire at a diner, Chuck discovers the marijuana cigarette that started the fire. Completely intact.
Chuck’s and Larry’s captain is played by Dan Aykroyd. I know I was harsh on John Cusack for his career trajectory, but Aykroyd makes him look like Tom Hanks.
Also in the film: poor, poor Jessica Biel, following up her performance in Next as Chuck’s and Larry’s lawyer, a woman who speaks out against discrimination, but still expects Chuck to be her token sassy gay friend. That could have worked. I cannot tell you how bizarre it feels to talk about this movie as something that had potential.
Jesus Christ, Sandler loves Rudy Giuliani.
How Did It Do?
Incredibly, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry grossed $186.1 million against an $85 million budget. Unusually for a non-Woody Allen comedy of the time, it benefitted greatly from box office returns outside the United States, especially Germany. Even more astonishing, the film received a begrudging, deferential endorsement from the gay media watchdog group GLAAD, then on its to becoming a punchline on par with PETA.
But that feels beside the point; critical consensus was always going to determine Chuck and Larry’s legacy, and the critics were unmerciful: 14% on RottenTomatoes, criticized for its depiction of basically everyone while also receiving perverse praise from those same critics for sucking beyond social offense. Naturally, Armond White, the notoriously contrarian pseudo-intellectual critic then working for the New York Press, who declared it a “modern classic” with “more laughs per minute than any movie since Hot Fuzz.” Get the fuck out of my review.
Next Time: Hairspray