“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry”

Adam Sandler and Kevin James play faux-gay Brooklyn firefighters in a comedy that's about as subtle as a face full of firehose.

Topics: Movies,

"I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry"

“I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” works hard at not being offensive. It just doesn’t work hard enough at being good. Larry Valentine (Kevin James) and Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) are Brooklyn, N.Y., firemen who pretend to be a gay couple in order to receive domestic-partnership benefits. This is particularly important for the widowed Larry: Because of a paperwork glitch, he’s unable to make his two young children the beneficiary of his pension. If he takes a partner — that would be his co-worker and best friend, Chuck, whose life he has also just saved — he won’t have to worry about his children’s welfare should anything happen to him. Chuck — the kind of guy who routinely sleeps with six cheerleaders at once, because, well, why not? — doesn’t like the idea at first but eventually obliges.

What follows might have been a convenient repository for lots of cheap gay-themed jokes, a way of allowing the more macho constituents of Adam Sandler’s considerable fan base to laugh at gay men without feeling that their own latent (or even overt) homophobia had been challenged. But no matter how crass and clueless the trailers make it look, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” is something sweeter, and quite a bit messier, than I expected. Many of the jokes simply fall flat: Here’s Sandler’s Chuck being confronted by his very angry, very buxom girlfriend after he’s slept with her identical twin; here’s James’ Larry making a giant bowl of spaghetti for his kids, slapping a few uncooked meat patties on top for protein. I don’t think I laughed at all during the movie’s first 30 minutes, and later I did so only grudgingly. James’ sly comic timing is a bit wasted here, although he manages to slip through with his dignity intact; Sandler’s delivery is funniest when it’s tossed-off, casual — which isn’t often enough. The picture creeps along in a way that feels both forced and tentative, as if director Dennis Dugan, his cast and his writers (Barry Fanaro, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, from a treatment by Lew Gallo) couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a mainstream movie with a progressive message, or a progressive movie that would play safely to the mainstream. The picture they’ve made seesaws uncertainly between the two.

Then again, the fact that it seesaws is at least something. “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” includes a number of jokes about Chuck and Larry being afraid to kiss or to express affection physically; and it does poke a bit of fun at one of Larry’s kids (played by a wily young actor named Cole Morgen), who’s more interested in tap-dancing and show music than he is in Little League (although I didn’t find any of those jokes particularly cruel). But even in the midst of all the dumb jokes — even wafting around the really dumb ones involving the admittedly magnificent breasts of Chuck and Larry’s lawyer, and Chuck’s love interest, played by Jessica Biel — is a spirit of earnest inclusiveness. In fact, I suspect “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” is less a comedy than a sincere if sometimes heavy-handed brief for the necessity of legalizing gay marriage.

Which may be why it isn’t very funny. The movie’s best moments are the ones that take you by surprise: Chuck and Larry head to Las Vegas for a quickie marriage, and as they discuss their impending nuptials in the back seat of a taxicab — they’re half-joking and half-serious about the degree of affection they feel for one another — the driver (played by Dugan himself) mutters under his breath, “Queers.” Defensively, Chuck and Larry jump on him, clearly not because they’re insulted by the fact that he believes they’re gay, but because in their eyes he’s a creep who wouldn’t accept them if they were gay. Later, in a “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” moment, Chuck addresses a crowded courtroom, explaining to the gathered yobbos that the word “faggot” is an insult. He admits he’s used it himself way too often in the past, but he knows better now, and he wants them to see the light, too. “It’s like ‘kike’ for me,” he explains, and the bluntness of that particular word hits surprisingly hard.

Many of the gags in “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry” are a little too “Some of my best friends are gay” to be particularly smart. Still, there is something at least vaguely amusing about the way Chuck, while shopping with Larry for toiletry items that will make them seem more authentically gay in the eyes of the state inspector who’s trying to “out” them (played, with slimy officiousness, by Steve Buscemi), muses aloud about the value of Q-tips to gay men: “Gay guys like the clean ears, for the licking and whatnot.” This murmured remark at least shows an attempt to stand, just for a moment, in another man’s shower flip-flops. “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” with its tepid gags and faltering pacing, may not be a very good movie. But at least, within its clumsiness, it strives for some kind of solidarity.

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>