A premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival, Ideal Home is the – relatively straightforward – story of a spiky gay couple whose lives twist a whole lot more tender with the arrival of a young boy into their household.
The boy in question is the hitherto unknown grandson of Erasmus Dickie Bumble (Steve Coogan), a la-di-dah TV chef who had a drugged up liaison in the eighties. He’s now partnered with snarky film producer Paul (Paul Rudd) and living an extravagant lifestyle in Santa Fe. When not hosting dinner parties for hideous socialites, the pair find themselves constantly bickering. Indeed, it is only their sexuality and shared conviction that neither is parent material which seems to bond them: ‘We couldn’t even handle that Yorkshire Terrier!’
Right before Erasmus’ estranged son (Jake McDorman) is arrested for beating up a prostitute, he smuggles his son through the window and sends him south to Grandad. Whilst the Santa Fe reactions are rather more subtle than one might have expected – ’I don’t want to be a terrible parent’ – the trio are predictably slow to bond. He won’t tell them his name, they don’t want him in their house, let alone their lives. An early shopping trip sees toys and twinkies put in the basket for ‘the kid’ (Jack Gore) and tequila for Erasmus.
The film comes from Andrew Fleming, directing and writing solo for the first time, and is the best work of his career to date. An oeuvre that includes Nancy Drew and Barefoot. Fleming’s witty script is bolstered by sharp performances from Coogan and Rudd and balance enough to keep the heart from schmaltz. There’s nothing unpredictable about his characters journeys – Erasmus needs to learn responsibility, Paul needs to manage his anxiety – but they’re worth rooting for. The tone is akin to last year’s, similarly likeable, Gifted.
Whilst there’s fun to be had in slapstick and wordplay, it is in moments of visual witticism that Ideal Home comes closest to flying. The first dialogue of the film sees a police officer shout a foreshadowing: ‘open up’ before arresting Erasmus’ son in his underwear. Surely, this is a symbol of heterosexual man losing his metaphorical trousers in the paternal relationship. There’s irony too in Beau keeping his father’s address in a bible.
On the other hand, perhaps Fleming’s film is too broad. There’s an unnecessarily long perusal through Erasmus and Paul’s porn collection and a number of contrivances feel forced, simply to stir up melodrama. Coogan particularly risks straying into caricature as his saunters into a Taco Bell, wearing a racoon fur coat and announcing himself to be ‘mesmerised by the divergent culinary concepts at play here’. A moment later he will earnestly tell his grandson that the trip is the happiest moment of his life.
When the film closes, however, it does so with a succession of photographs showing gay couples with their young children. Nodding to the taboos that remain in a stubbornly conservative society, it is a pleasing way to close a film that is sweet, funny and highly amiable.