Buck stops at 'Chuck'  on gay marriage issue

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Within the U.S., same-sex marriage might only be legal in Massachusetts. When the subject comes up in political debates, most major politicians are quick to duck and cover.

But if Adam Sandler's comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" proves anything -- beyond the fact that Sandler hasn't lost his knack for turning out mainstream comedies -- it's that the multiplex crowd, though it might be squeamish about gay sex, isn't scared off by the sight of men exchanging rings. That was demonstrated when the Universal release opened last weekend to $34.2 million in North America.

Now, no one has ever accused Sandler of being a social crusader. Although he has been gay-friendly in the past -- his 1999 comedy "Big Daddy" included a gay male couple without making too much fuss about it -- Sandler aims right down the middle of the road with his comedies, which he produces through his Happy Madison Prods. with his producing partner Jack Giarraputo. (Sandler isn't averse to taking risks, but he saves those impulses for his more serious dramatic turns such as "Spanglish" and "Punch-Drunk Love.")

"Chuck" is no exception. Right off the top, the movie establishes Sandler's character as a regular guy, a Brooklyn firefighter whose free time is divided between pickup basketball games and warding off the attention of the ladies. When his buddy Larry (Kevin James) proposes that the two pose as gay to score domestic-partnership benefits, Chuck's first response is to sputter, "You mean like faggots?"

But as Chuck and Larry's masquerade encounters anti-gay discrimination, that attitude changes. By film's end, Chuck is lecturing a crowded courtroom against the use of the f-word. The movie ends with a surprise gay wedding that has most of its characters applauding.

Not that the movie isn't strewn with gags that are likely to make gay audiences cringe. The straight characters seem obsessed with the mechanics of gay sex, and the gay characters -- who pop up at an outlandish costume ball -- are outfitted, quite literally, like butterflies in heat.

Still, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation gave the movie, on which it was invited to consult, its qualified endorsement, noting that "some stereotypes and anti-gay slurs are employed" but that "the overall message of the film is still one that stresses the importance of family and acceptance." Mike Vissichelli, president of FireFLAG/EMScq, an organization comprising New York's gay firefighters, said that "The 'coming out' process in the movie mirrors what I, and many of my colleagues, have gone through on the job."

"Chuck" isn't really advancing a social agenda, though. Its success is more reflective of changing attitudes. A Gallup poll released in May found that 46% of voters now approve of the idea of gay marriage. Even more striking, 62% of voters younger than 35 approve, and that's a big enough piece of the demographic pie to ensure a major studio success.

If anything, "Chuck" shows how Hollywood evolves to keep up with the times. Nearly 40 years ago, the comedy "The Gay Deceivers" spun a tale about two straight guys who pose as gay -- to escape the Vietnam-era draft -- but it was relegated to the sidelines. In 1982, Ryan O'Neal played a straight cop camping it up as gay to investigate murders in "Partners," but Paramount was so nervous about the premise that the key art depicted O'Neal's cop aiming a gun to his head in a supposedly comic pose.

"Chuck" simply invites gays into Sandler's brand of human comedy -- it might be broad and crude, undercut with a big dose of sentimentality, but it's also all-inclusive.
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