I suspect Ideal Home won’t find much of an audience. The title is uninspiring, the posters are corny and the premise that sees a middle aged gay couple have their flamboyant lifestyle disrupted when they suddenly end up as surrogate parents to a ten year old boy, sounds like The Birdcage meets Three Men and a Baby. It has to be said, this is not a movie that fits comfortably with the strong developments seen recently in LGBT cinema. At best it is clumsily derivative and at worst offensively outdated. The script and the performances are strong though and while it could have been excruciatingly bad, the talent behind the film ensures it has its rewards.
Across the last two years same sex relationships are becoming increasingly common on screen, both in stories that put them front and centre, like Carol, The Handmaiden and Call Me By Your Name, and in blockbusters which have them matter-of-factly in the background such as Star Trek Beyond, Independence Day: Resurgence and Beauty & the Beast. We are also getting populist films, like Atomic Blonde and Battle of the Sexes, where the protagonist is incidentally gay which really isn’t something we’ve commonly see in American cinema before. Same sex lovers have clearly been at the heart of some fantastic films for years but this is finally becoming less niche and the few breakout movies that find a larger audience, like Brokeback Mountain and Maurice, are no longer exceptional. LBGT characters in movies are now less like those portrayed in TV shows like Modern Family and Will & Grace and more, well, normal. Even in Friends where Ross’ ex-wife Carol and her partner Susan were just a regular couple they were still the butt of plenty of jokes. This is now something that mainstream media has mostly moved away from.
It is into this climate that Ideal Home is being released and at first glance you can’t help but feel that it’s gone backwards a little. Certainly the way the central couple, played by Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd, are depicted feels more akin to the nineties than now. Coogan’s Erasmus, in particular, is all silk neck scarfs and flounce. Like those aforementioned shows, this is also a comedy which doesn’t help with the movie’s sense of flippancy.
Beyond the gags about shallow people and the humorously frank sexual conversations though there is an engaging drama relating to how people relate to each other. Rudd’s Paul has a believable if predictable character arc and the actor brings an honesty to his performance. His developing affection for the kid, Bill, and In turn the kid’s growing respect and dependency on him gives the story genuine heart. In the end the authenticity of all of the relationships shines through any stereotyping.
Also, I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this but there appears to remain an imbalance in the representations of gay sex in mainstream cinema. Hollywood seems to be entirely comfortable with lesbian lovers but showing men in any kind of undressed embrace may still be a little taboo. Take Carol where there is a tender bedroom scene between Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett and then look at Call Me By Your Name which has the camera pointedly pan away when Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet finally consummate their relationship. Moonlight is similarly coy. Films such as God’s Own Country are redressing the balance and actually Ideal Home, to its credit, doesn’t shy entirely away from showing its protagonists together in this way.
All it’s potential flaws considered, Ideal Home does depict an alternative picture of the typical nuclear family which still isn’t common and for all its missteps it is a touching film.