Synecdoche, New York
If we don't "go to the movies" in any form, our minds wither and sicken.
The makers of the well-meaning queer-themed dramatic-comedy "Ideal Home" are smart enough to treat their middle-aged gay characters—desperate-to-please celebrity chef Erasmus (Steve Coogan) and his crabby producer/partner Paul (Paul Rudd)—with enough sensitivity to make you want to root for them. Unfortunately, it's hard not to be disappointed by writer/director Andrew Fleming's tepid jokes about Erasmus and Paul's clueless attempts at maintaining their by-now strained relationship, and also adopting Erasmus's estranged grand-son Bill (Jack Gore), who was abandoned by his biological father/Erasmus's son.
Coogan and Rudd's generally charming performances both give weight to their otherwise wisp-thin characters, but their swishy mannerisms also speak to the superficial nature of Fleming's presentation of Erasmus and Paul. All we know about these guys is that they drink, bicker, and are sad about how out of touch they feel. Also, they’re seriously loaded, which presumably explains how clueless they are. In that sense, the most radical and ostensibly funny thing about Erasmus and Paul is that they get to be openly gay and cartoonishly out-of-touch. That’s not necessarily a good look, but some may consequently find the protagonists of “Ideal Home” to be adequate in an overly precious "Will & Grace" meets "Mrs. Doubtfire" kind of way.
Others may be disappointed that “Ideal Home” is not more like "The Birdcage" or any of Blake Edwards's more inclusive comedies, particularly "Victor/Victoria." "Ideal Home" lacks those earlier comedies' fearless willingness to undercut gay stereotypes with sight gags, pithy one-liners, and dramatic asides that reveal how hard it is to be proud when society’s normalizing standard-bearers don’t see yourself like you do. "Ideal Home" is, in that sense, held back by writer/director Andrew Fleming's seeming lack of imaginative empathy. He doesn't get far enough into his characters heads to consider the underlying social pressures that motivate Erasmus and Paul's rocky relationship, and therefore never delivers any meaningfully funny jokes about what it’s like to be a pair of highly visible outsiders.
Instead, Fleming focuses on how rich and clueless Erasmus is, and how frustrated and tired that makes Paul. Erasmus swans around his palatial ranch while filming a program about in-authentic Mexican and Indian food, including kitschy-sounding fusion platters like "Tandoori lobster." Erasmus also drinks too much, and makes big displays of emotion that are—as Paul correctly intuits—essentially insincere. This leaves Paul to do most of the day-to-day work of caring for Bill, a withdrawn kid who grew up in cheap motels and impersonal fast food restaurants thanks to his deadbeat dad. Bill—born "Angel," though he hates that name—starts off by sneering at Paul and Erasmus for being gay. He then makes Erasmus and Paul’s lives difficult by refusing to tell them his real name (thereby preventing them from enrolling him in school). Also, he won't eat anything but Taco Bell. He is poor, sad, and angry, which is apparently amusing?
Anyway, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds less like an underwhelming range of mountain-shaped mole hills. Erasmus wears a raccoon fur coat and demands the wine list and a better table when he visits Taco Bell. Then Paul tries to bribe Bill into eating Lunchables or Sour Patch Kids, just so Paul doesn't have to be seen going to Taco Bell. There’s also a couple of uncomfortable, but never really embarassing encounters with concerned social worker Melissa (Alison Pill). So what? What do these mild conflicts say about Erasmus and Paul other than "Our creators don't really understand us beyond a point?"
"Ideal Home" may not be a total dud, but it is a huge waste of both Rudd and Coogan's talent. Most of the film’s jokes are so shameless and uninspired that even the hackiest improv troupes would be ashamed of them, like when Paul and Erasmus take Bill to the "Dootsh-Baag Art Gallery,” or when Melissa discovers their gay porn stash, featuring titles like "Butt Pluggerz" and "Brokeback Mountin." The only thing that’s notably funny about these bland routines are the appropriately embarrassed looks on Coogan and Rudd’s faces. Fleming's jokes are rarely as funny as Coogan and Rudd are, though the bit where Erasmus and Paul have sex on a bear skin rug has an exceptionally hilarious climax.
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