"Ideal Home” is a diverting comedy by out gay writer/ director Andrew Fleming. Erasmus (Steve Coogan) is the egocentric host of a cable TV food show produced by his partner Paul (Paul Rudd). The bickering couple must figure out how to be good parents when Erasmus’ grandson Bill (Jack Gore) unexpectedly turns up on their doorstep.
Will the gay couple fall for the son they always wished they never had? Will Bill prefer his two new dads to his real one? “Ideal Home” answers these questions and provides some belly laughs with deliciously bitchy dialogue and a series of comic twists.
In a phone interview, Fleming explained that the film stemmed partly from his real life.
“Paul and Erasmus were created for a script that didn’t come together,” he explained. “I was in a long term relationship and I was helping raise my partner’s son. I didn’t know how to write that, so I injected Paul and Erasmus into our lives.”
Fleming said that writing about things that happened to him, “like a diary or therapy,” made it more personal. He also wanted to make a mainstream film about a gay couple in a long-term relationship because so few Hollywood movies are about that.
“I made the movie because I don’t see myself in films,” he said. “There are a handful of gay relationship in the center of [Hollywood] movies. They tend to be tragic or romantic or serious in a way that I don’t recognize myself. I wanted to see something I could recognize. Most gay stories — and so few mainstream movies are about gay relationships — about the first brush of sexuality and romance, but not about 10 years down the line and the compromises and fights couples have staying in the relationship.”
“Ideal Home” is full of arch, witty lines that portray two long-suffering partners. When Paul is asked if her would leave Erasmus, he responds, “Oh, I probably will, but part of me wants to stick around to watch him die.”
Another comic moment has the couple explaining their porn collection to Melissa (Alison Pill), a child protective services agent. It’s a scene Fleming particularly enjoys.
“It is a gratuitous comedy scene in a film that doesn’t have too many of those,” he said. “Other jokes in the film move the story along. But that scene makes me laugh. I like to go too far and pull back from there. There are always jokes that go too far in everything I’ve done. I like to push the envelope.”
Fleming then got on a bit of a soapbox about how comedy is not taken seriously.
“It’s harder to make jokes in a story about realistic characters,” he said. “This film in particular was re-learning that lesson. A few more scenes had a serious note. But you can make a joke about something serious and the serious point still lands. Invariably, I went with it. Laughing at a thing that is serious drives the point home.”
“Ideal Home” at times makes its points about gay parenting through exaggeration — a parent/ teacher conference about Bill’s foul language in school addresses the inappropriate moments any parent — gay or straight — faces in their child’s life.
“I think my movie has a different take — it’s a less noble version of gay parenting,” Fleming said. “Parenting is a messy business — you do what you can and hope it works out. I didn’t realize that. Being a gay parent in this day and age is to jump through hoops. You must want it in a way that straight people don’t.”
He referred back to his own experiences as the partner of a man with a son.
“I was around, and his mother was not,” Fleming explained. “I became [a father figure] by default to a certain degree. His father was the best parent I’ve ever seen — he was father and mother — to this young man, who is the least neurotic, well turned out, happiest person I know because of his father. To be a good parent, it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight.”
Fleming doesn’t shy away from exploiting tropes that may seem like old gay stereotypes. Both Erasmus and Paul prefer wine to beer and don’t understand sports. The filmmaker insisted that those are simply things reflective of his own life and of those of other gay men he knows.
“I have a picture of myself with Liza [Minnelli, as Paul and Erasmus do]. That’s not fake,” he said. “I don’t care about sports, I never did. I feel it makes me gayer. That’s my truth and I’m sticking with it. Everything in the film is something that happened to me or somebody I know. It’s not cliché, it’s real. There’s a litmus test. Some folks react to how gay Paul and Erasmus are in the film as if that’s problematic!”
To that, critique Fleming’s response is simple and straightforward: “Does anyone get worked up about how straight someone is acting in a film?”
IDEAL HOME | Directed by Andrew Fleming | Brainstorm Media | Opens Jun. 29 | Cinema Village | 22 E. 12th St. | cinemavillage.com