Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #47 Hiding Out (1987)
Welcome, friends, to the latest entry in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the site and career-sustaining column where I give YOU, the ferociously sexy, intimidatingly brilliant Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place patron, an opportunity to choose a movie that I must watch, and then write about, in exchange for a one-time, one hundred dollar pledge. The price goes down to seventy-five dollars for each additional choice.
It goes down to sixty-five dollars when you buy a Control Nathan Rabin entry for a friend or a sibling. That’s just what patron Thomas Ward did for his sister Sara. This fine young man chose to give his sister a very early birthday gift in the form of a rambling appreciation of the 1987 Jon Cryer vehicle Hiding Out, which was special to them when they were much younger in the way utterly disposable but weirdly unforgettable cinematic trifles sometimes are.
I watched Hiding Out through the prism of having just consumed in one sitting Michael McPadden’s Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped! , an obsessive and exhaustive exploration of the wonderfully sleazy, low-rent universe of teen sex comedies of the 1970s, 80s and 1990s. It’s a particularly refreshing read in an era where the entire teen sex comedy looks, at best #problematic and at worst cause for genre-wide cancellation.
At a time when representations of race, gender and sexuality in media are forever and aggressively being debated and analyzed it’s fascinating to travel back in time to the good and bad old days of the 1980s, when sexism, homophobia, racism and seriously fucked up gender politics, particularly where sexual consent and rape are concerned were seemingly integral, perversely unexamined elements of every lowbrow comedy.
The relatively harmless, even intermittently charming Hiding Out, for example, is on some level very much concerned with whether Andrew Morenski (Jon Cryer), a relatively worldly, heavily bearded and mustachioed twenty seven year old New York stockbroker will have sex with Ryan Campbell (SLC Punk’s Annabelle Gish), the seventeen year old high school student he’s in love with.
In the current cultural climate, Hiding Out’s heavy intimations of statutory rape would be a deal-breaker in terms of the film getting made: in 1987 filmmakers apparently just felt the heavy specter of statutory rape added a little spice to the proceedings.
But before Andrew can be tempted by the supple flesh of a 17 year old high school student he’s a financial hot shot in New York, with the kind of job and life that revolves around yelling into phones while chain-smoking in front of banks upon banks of flashing lights and primitive computers.
Unfortunately for our hero, mobsters want to kill Andrew before he can testify against their boss. So when henchmen nearly kill Andrew while he’s being protected by the government he decides to break free and do a little homemade, makeshift Witness Protection-style hiding out by shaving off his beard and mustache, trading in his 5000 dollar Italian suits for less ostentatious attire and passing himself off as a high school student at the small town New Jersey high school where his cousin Patrick (Keith Coogan) matriculates.
His first day at his new school under the name Maxwell Hauser, Andrew enters a Sex Ed class already in progress devoted, hilariously, to sexual preference, the spectrum of human sexuality and homosexuality. With understandable anxiety in his voice, the sex ed teacher argues provocatively, “Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, everyone has experienced feelings at all points along the spectrum, including homosexuality.”
True, Hiding Out does not include Queer or Non-Binary or trans on its spectrum of human sexuality I was very impressed by the film’s sexual politics. Finally, a teen sex comedy from the Reagan era that acknowledges that we’re all gay to some extent or another! Was this the “woke” teen sex romp I’d secretly been looking for all these years?
“I know this is not a subject that we feel free to discuss easily and openly but I have to remind you that if we don’t share, we don’t communicate, then we can’t begin to understand who we are. I don’t expect anyone to stand up in this room and proclaim their gayness,” the teacher continues, possibly as an elaborate preamble to coming out himself. That would explain why he seems so nervous. Another reason he might seem nervous? He’s talking about homosexuality to a bunch of teenagers in 1987.
Just when I was getting ready to praise Hiding Out’s sensitive depiction of homosexuality and bisexuality and the complexities of human sexuality, the scene’s ultimate purpose beomes clear. Andrew/Max tries to get his cousin Patrick’s attention in a way that casually but explicitly conveys, “Hey, I’m your cousin only I shaved my beard and mustache and have blonde highlights because I’m hiding out from the mob by going to the same high school as you. Crazy, huh?” but that the teacher misinterprets as the new kid boldly raising his hand so that he can loudly proclaim, to the class, his classmates and god above that he is a proud gay man.
We don’t get to witness the hilarity that undoubtedly ensued after Maxwell Hauser’s accidental coming out. When we next see Andrew/Maxwell and Patrick together in a bathroom the younger man is literally screaming “Rape, rape!” followed by “Get back! Don’t make me hurt you. Well, look Bub, here’s the spectrum, OK” (makes expansive gestures with his arms), on this side we got the homo and over here’s hetero and here’s me, way the fuck over here. Different lifestyles and stuff like that!”
Hiding Out doesn’t just bend over backwards for an exceedingly lame, elaborate gay panic gag; it doubles down by adding a hysterical fear of being sexually assaulted and an element of incest into an already gross mix.
Patrick changes his mind once he learns that the new kid in school is his wealthy, successful stockbroker cousin and not an insatiable homosexual rapist. Coogan has his own solo moment of deeply unnecessary creepiness when he’s on a hot date with the bespectacled girl of his dreams and he hides the girl’s glasses from her as a way to get close enough to go in for a passionate smooch. Granted, that isn’t Revenge of the Nerds-level appalling but it is a little alarming that even the geeky sidekick is more than willing to lie to a woman and cynically manipulate the situation in order to increase his chances of getting laid.
The sex ed teacher who did and did not invite his students to come forward and proclaim their homosexuality to their no doubt understanding and open-minded 1987 New Jersey teenage classmates isn’t the only eccentric educator our hero encounters.
In history class a miserable battle-axe proposes that, contrary to the historical record, “(Richard Nixon) was a target, a victim. Campus radicals needed a scapegoat to justify their own shoddy idealism.”
When an understandably apoplectic Andrew/Maxwell explains that, actually, Nixon was the victim of his own hubris and paranoias and was responsible for his own downfall an even angrier teacher grimly informs him “You’re not OLD enough to know who did what. That’s my job. And the one thing I will not have in my classroom is anarchy!”
This history teacher makes an excellent point. The only way we can possibly know things that happened in the past is if we personally experienced them or they happened while we were alive. It would be different if history was written down in books or if there were whole departments in colleges and elementary schools and high schools explicitly devoted to teaching people what happened in the past but that obviously is something that does not exist or Hiding Out would acknowledge it.
Was Richard Nixon a great president or a monster? I was not born then so I have no idea and no opinion. I’ve similarly read that groups like The Beatles and Big Star were good and important but I was not alive then so I have no way of knowing.
So Hiding Out is problematic when it comes to gender, sexuality and age of consent laws. It does not help that our hero casually tosses out early in his adventures in being a make-pretend teen that the girls in high school all look like 35 year old divorcees. It’s politically correct, however, when it comes to Richard Nixon.
As for its racial politics, Hiding Out is very in keeping with being a 1987 teen sex comedy. Early in the film, Clinton (Claude Brooks), a handsome, charismatic and popular African-American student corners Andrew/Maxwell in the bathroom along with some of his friends, or “homeboys”, as this film would think of them.
Clinton, it seems, fancies himself something of a shadowy Roger Stone/Steve Bannon figure, working furtively in the shadows while others seek the limelight. So instead of running for student body president himself, he decides to run Andrew/Maxwell for office against the imposter’s wishes.
To convince Andrew/Maxwell to run he has his crew perform the following a cappella rap: “For the man, the man is Mad Max/Yes he will give us justice/He’ll make lunch longer/And make class shorter/Instead of water/Now the dickhead O’Roarke/has been 2 years standing/Now listen to a word/of what we’re demanding/So the thing to do if you want to have big fu-un/Just vote for Mad Max because he’s down with Clinton”
If I were Andrew/Maxwell I would be very flattered that someone went through the bother of writing and performing an entire rap song to try to convince me to run for student body president and also insulted by the poor quality of the resulting rap.
Andrew/Maxwell doesn’t have much of an arc over the course of the film. He begins it an essentially decent guy, smart, successful and reasonably interesting and ends the movie a more laid-back, less money-obsessed version of the same guy, albeit now he wants to be a teacher, which would be great if the central thrust of the film did not involve him being extremely sexually attracted to an underage high school student.
Hiding Out may not be much of a movie but it’s an oddly inspired Cryer vehicle all the same. Verisimilitude obviously is not particularly important to the film but Cryer looks like he could pass for a teenager and convincingly acts like an adult amused to be blessed and cursed with an opportunity to revisit his high school years.
This is the kind of shameless trifle that recycles my favorite cliche: a character badly and lazily giving themselves a fake name based on what they’re looking at. In this case, “Maxwell” gets the name “Maxwell Hauser” from looking at a can of Maxwell House instant coffee. This gag ALWAYS works or my name isn’t Apple Laptop Pages Hiding Out Article IV.
Perhaps because my brain had been primed by Teen Movie Hell I thoroughly enjoyed Hiding Out for reasons both intentional and otherwise. I love writing about the weird movies you guys are obsessed with. To that end, I’d like to extend the offer to have me write about a Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 movie for a friend for sixty-five dollars indefinitely. It was previously a holiday special but if you’d like to do a Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 entry for a friend I will happily write it up for y’all for just sixty five dollars. It’s a fun way to do a friend a solid and help keep this website in business at the same time.
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