The high concept of a fake gay marriage undertaken to save pension benefits sounds like it would be the perfect fit for a low brow Adam Sandler comedy. Why is it, then, that the jokes fall flat most of the time? I sat there in the darkened theater waiting for the story to take off, but it never left the realm of the sitcom, stretched nearly to the breaking point to reach feature length.
I wanted to like it. Sandler is usually dependable for this type of comedy, but this felt like a different Sandler, a Sandler who wasn't completely comfortable in this new role as an adult character. On the other side, Kevin James' character felt truly conflicted, and had a lot more heart in his portrayal. In the end, it is a movie that has its laughs, but it fails to make much of an impact.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry centers on a pair of New York City firefighters. Larry (Kevin James) is a widower who, following a close call, worries about what would happen to his two kids should something happen to him. You see, he never changed his pension beneficiary from his deceased wife to his kids. Because he waited so long following the death, he cannot change the beneficiary without getting remarried.
Larry is a man who loved his wife, still loves his wife, and has not been able to move on. His love for his wife reminds me of Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub on Monk) and the way his love for his deceased wife persists; even death cannot part them. It is his perpetual state of mourning which leads to his request to fake a domestic partnership; it is out of love for his kids that he is willing to do anything to ensure their futures.
The man playing the role of partner is Chuck (Sandler), Mr. February in the fireman's calendar and confirmed bachelor and ladies man — a man who, as a staunch heterosexual, has no initial desire to take any part in this ruse. However, Larry had saved his life, and as such, he owes it to him to do anything, anytime. The time has come, but signing domestic partner papers winds up being much more than just a paper trick.
The union is being challenged, as there is the possibility of (gasp) fraud. Chuck and Larry head to the cold north, Canada, to get married in an effort to fend off any would be investigation. Things get more complicated when Chuck gets an eyeful of their gorgeous lawyer (Jessica Biel), and a weasely investigator (Steve Buscemi) shows up rummaging through their trash.
I am not sure exactly what I expected. It was clearly going to be derive much of its humor from homophobic comments, stereotypes of the gay lifestyle, and the stereotypical reaction of the "man's man" type of personality. I will not lie and say it wasn't funny, but so much of it was unsurprising. It failed to rise above the subject matter and offer any real commentary on the subject of gay marriage and acceptance. Rather, the plot centers on deceiving the system, subverting the reality of gay rights, and only comes around to being somewhat pro-gay when their union is challenged and they are exposed. When their story makes headline news, they are forced to go deeper undercover as a legitimate couple, which just brings out more gay jokes. The final act is an act of apology to the gay community, a "we know you are gay and that's okay" sort of sentiment. However, the fact that they were masquerading as a gay couple in an effort to cheat the system is forgotten as they somehow stop being criminals and become gay heroes.
Kevin James is the star of the show. He may not be the movie star yet, but he has good comic timing, and he carries the heart of the movie all by himself. Sure, his methods may not be very good, and downright criminal, but his character has a sweetness that rings true.
Sandler, on the other hand, seems to be off throughout the movie. The fireman/ladies man seems to be just outside of his grasp; I cannot quite put my finger on it, but it really felt off. Jessica Biel, as their lawyer, looks great, but doesn't seem like a terribly good lawyer, and what is it with the idea that it is okay to strip down in front of a client (gay or not) and let him play with your breasts? I know about those who say women feel safe around gay men, that they aren't threatened, but give me a break. I doubt there are many that would feel this secure, not to mention she doesn't really know him, and he is a client! Much of the supporting cast is filled with Sandler regulars, as well as cameos by SNL alums like David Spade, Rachel Dratch, Rob Schneider, and Dan Akroyd and cameos by the likes of Richard Chamberlain, Lance Bass, Dave Matthews, and Rob Corddry.
Bottom line. This could have been so much funnier, so much smarter, and just flat out better. The laughs are few and far between. I wanted to like it, I was expecting a better script from Alexander Payne, but it just failed to offer anything other than low brow comedy. I know it was meant as a low brow comedy, but even low brow comedies can rise above and stand out in a crowd. This is destined to be forgotten. Still, it did have a good deal of Mets gear, and that is always a good thing.