Now: Swing Vote (2008)
Then: In & Out (1997)
Into the Spotlight
Out of the Closet
In the just-released Swing Vote, Kevin Costner plays Bud Johnson, a New Mexico voter thrust into the spotlight when a voting machine error turns his unregistered ballot into the decisive vote for a Presidential election. Though its subject matter is vastly different, the movie shares a number of parallels with In & Out , the 1997 comedy in which an Indiana high school teacher Howard Brackett (Kevin Kline) is thrust unexpectedly onto the world stage when a former student’s Oscar acceptance speech outs him as gay even as he’s about to get married. How do the two compare?
Small Town, Big World
Both Swing Vote and In & Out
involve small-town men becoming national celebrities and the situation
doesn’t just affect their lives, but their towns as well once the
24/7 news coverage comes calling. Swing Vote
actually delves a little deeper into how Texaco, New Mexico turns into
a three-ring media circus as local restaurants start
offering “Bud Burgers,” and every possible interest group sets up on
the main drag. In the small-town setting of In & Out, Greenleaf, Indiana never gets quite so crazed but we
do get a sense of how Howard’s fellow residents are reacting
to the “revelation.” Though In & Out‘s Greenleaf feels more personal, Swing Vote‘s Texaco actually feels more real.
Interestingly, a sympathetic (but not too
so) reporter bonds with the hero in each movie. In Swing Vote, it’s Paula Patton’s Kate Madison, a local reporter who wants to ride this story to the big time; in In & Out, it’s Tom Selleck’s cheerily amoral Peter Malloy, a newshound whose
approach is complicated by the fact that he’s gay himself. Both Patton and Selleck add zing,
but Patton’s part in the proceedings is decidedly less fun than Selleck’s cynical showboat.
Tale of Two Kevins
In some ways, the biggest difference is demonstrated by how the leading men
approach their roles. Costner’s Bud is a charming screw-up;
hung over, tired, recently fired, he takes to the national spotlight like a duck to water. Klein’s Howard is a more comedic creation — fussy,
exasperated, frantically trying to restore order to his life. Costner gets a few funny lines but he also has to do some real acting; Klein may be regarded more as an actor’s actor but here he’s a bit of a clown.
Moments of Truth
Swing Vote and In & Out each culminate in scenes where our heroes get to be redeemed before a
crowd of their fellow townspeople. The difference is that
in Swing Vote, Bud essentially apologizes to the community while in In & Out‘s, the community apologizes to Howard. Swing Vote‘s finale doesn’t have the punch of In & Out‘s finale but it does gives weight and depth to the comedy which has preceded.
The biggest difference between Swing Vote and In & Out is tone: One’s a modern riff on a feel-good film of Frank Capra; the other comes out of the tradition of screwball comedies by Preston Sturges. In the end, Swing Vote has the kind of noble aspirations In & Out is out to mock. Both movies may be about regular guys thrust into the glare of the
spotlight, but which one you prefer probably has something to do with how you see the world, more than the directorial execution or skill of the performances.