steve coogan's new movie 'ideal home' is an insidiously homophobic misfire
A new movie about de facto gay fathers, features the tagline: "THESE DADS SUCK." Are you lolling in the aisle yet?
A promotional poster for Ideal Home, the new movie about de facto gay fathers, features the tagline: "THESE DADS SUCK." The word "suck" is shown largest of all, presumably to ram home the joke that this film is about homo fairy friend-of-Cher daddies who do things like give blowjobs because they're gay.
The film itself isn't quite as crassly homophobic as this marketing misfire. But it insidiously homophobic, as well as reductive, backwards and boring. Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd play an affluent gay couple (Coogan's Erasmus hosts a cable cookery show, which Rudd's Paul directs) who drink, bitch and throw dinner parties at their fancy Santa Fe ranch. I think Erasmus and Paul are supposed to swap waspish put-downs, but the script can only muster what sound like Will & Grace cast-offs. "He's like a gay Butch Cassidy," Paul says after Erasmus tries riding a horse. "Except not butch." Lads, are you lolling in the aisles yet?
Ideal Home was actually written and directed by a gay film-maker, Andrew Fleming, whose previous credits include cult teen movie The Craft. So it's especially disappointing that its central tenet feels faintly and quaintly homophobic. Erasmus has an estranged son who's now a drug dealer, and when he gets arrested, he sends his own 10-year-old son to live with grandad in a fit of a desperation. Right from the start, Ideal Home seems to imply that it's only marginally better to be cared for by a couple of quacking old queens than get carted off by Child Protection Services.
At first, Erasmus and Paul can't cope with a child because they're still children themselves -- we know this because the script literally tells us so. But over time, they bond with the boy and shed their selfish ways and... you know the rest, but it won't move you in the slightest because Ideal Home is about as emotionally involving as your co-worker's Instagram story.
A large part of the problem is casting. Let's save the debate on straight actors playing gay roles for another day, while acknowledging that Timothée Chalamet was superb in Call Me By Your Name and Nick Robinson did a good job in Love, Simon, a more mainstream gay-themed movie. But Coogan and Rudd don't look comfortable here. Rudd's performance as Paul is basically grumpy af middle-aged dude with an occasional camp flourish. Erasmus is supposed to be more flamboyant -- he wears a raccoon fur coat and a neckerchief -- but Coogan seems scared to camp it up properly. What we end up with is Alan Partridge crossed with a low-energy Kenneth Williams.
Who is Ideal Home for? No queer person will love this movie, and only the most repressed straight folks won't find it tame and tepid.
Then again, the script's often terrible, too. Coogan's Erasmus lacks the depth of, say, Nathan Lane's similarly effeminate character in The Birdcage, which came out 22 years ago but actually presents better-realised gay characters than Ideal Home. Some of this film's set-ups are straight from a dodgy sitcom. Erasmus and Paul attend a kids' birthday party and struggle to talk about sports with a straight dad. Their gay porn stash is discovered by a social worker -- and guess what, they own a film called Bareback Mountain. They almost get caught having sex on a bearskin rug -- and naturally, the scene is shot so it looks as though Rudd is about to mount Coogan, because that's the only way gay men would ever have sex in a film like this. Let's face it, no one in Ideal Home was ever going to be shown with his legs in the air.
But Ideal Home isn't just a little bit homophobic. It's also a little bit snobbish and a little bit sexist. It has no decent female roles -- Alison Pill gets the least measly one, playing a social worker who's bitched about for wearing flat shoes. Why? Because gay guys like fashion and glamour and women who are nearly as extra as drag queens, duh!
Who is Ideal Home for? No queer person will love this movie, and only the most repressed straight folks won't find it tame and tepid. The saddest part is its closing montage, which shows footage of real-life same-sex parents and their kids, looking happy, looking like families. Presumably at some stage in the creative process Ideal Home was intended to celebrate and normalise LGBTQ parenthood -- and maybe in 1985, it would have done.
But in 2018, it simply endorses heteronormativity. At the start, we're shown a photo of Erasmus and Paul hanging out with Liza Minnelli. An hour later, they're taking snaps of their beloved grandson, because obviously their life has, like, real meaning now. I kept hoping Liza might rock up for a showy cameo to make 90 minutes of this hollow nonsense worthwhile. But she never came.