Not all of this movie’s shortcomings can be overlooked for a charming Paul Rudd and his nice beard.
There’s no official sub-genre for movies featuring a selfish grownup who’s suddenly thrust into the parenting of a child, but there are certainly enough of those movies to create one. They’re heart-warming, albeit predictable, tales that help us believe even the crappiest people are capable of shaping up. Few of them stray from a straightforward story, but Andrew Fleming‘s latest feature Ideal Home provides more interesting subjects to the unprepared-parents cliche by making those parents two bickering gay men.
Just as the formula goes, Ideal Home begins with the abandoned child Bill (Jack Gore) finding his surrogate parents, Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and Paul (Paul Rudd). It opens rather somberly for a comedy as Bill watches his real father being taken to jail. Oppositely, his parents-in-waiting don’t live a happy life either. Erasmus, a pompous cooking show host likely modeled after Ina Garten, and his long-term partner Paul, who works on Erasmus’s show, bicker on set in front of the rest of the crew. They host an extravagant dinner party for other well-to-do guests, something that’s apparently their specialty for avoiding their problems. They’re set up perfectly for the audience — they’re selfish, materialistic, and completely out of touch with the rest of the world. Listening to them joke about having to deal with screams of children in Syria while trying to eat their authentic cuisine, it’s clear their privileged life is about to be upended. Bill quietly informs Erasmus he is his surprise grandson. The whole party reacts superficially like Bill is just another silly story that happened at one of Erasmus and Paul’s crazy parties. It makes for a funny scene and fits with their character, but it speaks to the problem of the entire film moving forward.
Rudd and Coogan have fantastic chemistry and bring all of the laughs pretty single-handedly. Their relationship is the strongest aspect of the movie, despite being a rocky relationship in actuality. It’s clear Fleming spent the right amount of effort making sure this gay couple feels real and not just a gimmick. Their fights are hilarious and sometimes sad when we are dying for a hint that this movie has some emotion. At odds for most of the movie, they are exactly what you want out of a comedy couple forced to deal with an issue together. Fleming could’ve put them in any type of comedy and they would be enjoyable to watch and make up. As entertaining as Erasmus and Paul are, though, they’re only half of the movie.
Fleming nails fleshing out the couple, but just as important to develop is the child they have to take care of. Bill is where the movie loses its substance. The circumstances in which he lands into the hands of Erasmus and Paul are wonky but easy enough to look past once the film gets going, but the boy’s lack of personality is harder to overcome when it never improves.
Bill is boring, but at no fault to the actor who plays him. When we finally get some insight into what he has been through in his tough young life, the kid delivers a good performance. So much of the movie sees Bill as a quiet addition to a scene with Erasmus and Paul clearly dominating attention rather than being an intricate part of the conflict as well. He’s talked about a lot of the movie but doesn’t actually do much. What made Paper Moon (1973) so fun was that Addie’s personality was an equal match for Moses and made his attempts to control her impossible and entertaining. That’s what Ideal Home is missing despite the joy of Erasmus and Paul’s interactions.
In turn, if Bill isn’t fleshed out than neither is his relationship with his new parents. Every movie involving that kind of relationship needs to begin with the surrogate parents having no way they can take care of this kid as the child threatens their life as they know it. That, of course, leaves no other option and they have to shape up and look after the child. Something shifts, they grow close and now they need each other. Just as they’ve got everything figured out, a threat comes along trying to tear them apart which they triumphantly overcome.
Ideal Home tries to follow that outline but in a way that feels inorganic from the start. Bill never threatens Erasmus and Paul’s extravagant life or anything else important to them. It’s not that difficult of a decision to take care of him. Every obstacle after that is menial and solved way too quickly to mean anything to the audience or their relationship.
Fleming’s good intentions with Ideal Home make it worth watching if you’re looking for a jovial story with diverse characters. It has some good laughs and an occasional emotional moment, but it lacks the substance to be anything but just okay.
Ideal Home opens in limited release starting June 29th.