Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd play a long-term gay couple on the verge of a nervous breakdown forced to grow up and take on new responsibilities in Ideal Home, a new comedy film written and directed by Andrew Fleming and screening at the 2018 Melbourne Queer Film Festival. The film reunites Coogan and Rudd on the big screen for the first time since Our Idiot Brother (2011), while Coogan previously worked with Fleming on Hamlet 2 (2008).
Erasmus (Coogan) and Paul (Rudd) have been together many years and produce a successful cooking show on American basic cable TV, hosted by Erasmus himself. The success of the show allows them to lead an extravagant lifestyle and distracts them from their own relationship problems. Then one night, out of the blue, Angel (Jack Gore) shows up at their door with a note explaining that he is the child of Erasmus’ son, Beau (Jake McDorman).
Erasmus was not aware of Angel’s existence. Despite this, there is no one else in the world who can take care of his grandson, and Paul and him they decide to take Angel into their home and look after him.
The child’s sudden arrival turns their world upside down and the task of parenting proves to be quite challenging to them. Angel, whom they soon take to calling Bill, is a difficult child. Furthermore, they may be a little too immature to take care of him properly. “We can’t take care of a child. We are children,” Paul tells Erasmus, despite him being the more responsible one of the two. Yet it is their willingness to learn the tricks of the trade as they go along that reveals them as kind hearted souls – this despite Fleming never concealing their imperfections from us. In fact, their own coming-of-age will prove to be the film’s real driving force, as well as the source of most of Ideal Home‘s hilarity and gags.
Fleming’s film draws inevitable comparisons with La Cage aux Folles (1978) and its later American remake, The Birdcage (1996), which starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. While it certainly echoes these and other previous similar comedies, especially through its eccentric lead bickering gay couple, Ideal Home also updates the formula and its conventions through a more contemporary approach.
For instance, Paul and Erasmus are unapologetically gay and far less concerned with having to hide who they are to be accepted by society. Gay parenting, an obvious key theme of the movie, is also explored in a more naturalistic way, rather than through overwhelming heavy-handedness. Furthermore, while the film generates many laughs, they are neither at the expense of its lead characters nor reliant on gay stereotypes.
The film works also thanks to the balanced lead performances by Coogan and Rudd. They share great chemistry as both a comedy duo and as an on-screen long-term couple who feel like they don’t have to try so hard anymore. Despite their moaning and whining, Erasmus and Paul clearly love each other (whether they like it or not) and part of the delight of Ideal Home is seeing them realize that numerous times over the course of the film.
While it may lack more substance and psychological depth, and could be criticized for playing it safe, Fleming’s film is a warm and fuzzy lighthearted comedy that successfully updates conventional depictions of queerness and family in a comedy film. A heartwarming closing montage of real-life LGBTIQ families also reminds us that it’s time to update the universal notions of domesticity and re-define what makes a home ‘ideal.’