Director: Andrew Fleming
Starring: Steve Coogan, Paul Rudd, Jack Gore, Alison Pill
Writer: Andrew Fleming
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
Supermarket sushi is like God shitting on mankind.
Ideal Home feels like it’s going to take a lot of different paths with its semi-meandering story. It manages to swerve away from some of the more overplayed indie comedy tropes while warmly settling into others. The fact that the film becomes almost episodic during its middle. It drops us in and out of sitcom-y situations while only slightly moving the plot or character development forward, isn’t that much of a problem when you get to spend that time with Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd.
The film opens with a small boy (Jack Gore) waking up in his motel room to the police banging on the door. His father (Jake McDorman) is an addict and a fuck-up. He sends his kid out the bathroom window with some money and instructions to go to his grandfather’s house.
That grandfather is Erasmus Brumble (Coogan), an eccentric chef who lives on an estate in Santa Fe. He has one of the million-and-one cooking shows you’d end up watching several hours of on a weekend afternoon. Paul (Rudd) is his long-term partner and put-upon producer. They’re not in a great place when the kid shows up — with Paul joking-not-joking that he’s going to leave Erasmus — and having to care for him goes about the way you’d expect.
The rest of the movie plays out as a series of gags about this crass couple having to care for a kid they never wanted. It never gets as biting as something like Bad Santa, or as sickeningly cheesy as a Hallmark Channel Original. It ends up comfortable between the two ends of the spectrum, which is a perfectly fine place for it. Some of the jokes feel like warmed-over Will & Grace plotlines, like a visit from a child services representative (Alison Pill) where Coogan and Rudd try to cover for their porn collection. Other jokes are equally familiar (parents called in to talk to the teacher, having to go to a child’s birthday party, etc.) but have fun twists or are completely sold by the actors.
That’s really the selling point of this film. Coogan and Rudd are fantastic comic actors in their own right, and putting them together paid dividends. Even though Coogan comes close to a flamboyant gay stereotype, it’s tweaked enough to show us that he’s just a narcissistic celebrity. Rudd anchors the relationship as the realist and the mature one. He still gets to be as goofy and biting as Coogan does. They’re a great, charismatic couple and I’d legitimately watch some Paul and Erasmus TV specials or something.
The last act of the film feels a little rushed. Almost like they realized they can’t just do a series of sketches about these two guys dealing with a kid and needed to actually finish an arc and wrap things up. Luckily there isn’t that lame thing where the child fixes a crappy relationship and everything ends up perfect. Erasmus and Paul have to deal with their own issues outside on their own, and I liked that.
I also appreciated that Erasmus’s son was realistically a mess. He drives his kid around while high and is arrested for assault. He’s not a good guy. But the movie shows that some of the fault for that lands on Erasmus wanting nothing to do with him, and regardless of his issues, his son still loves him. It’s an aspect that could have gone too over-the-top in either direction on the aforementioned Bad Santa-Hallmark Spectrum but they found a nice balance.
Andrew Fleming wrote and directed 1996’s The Craft, which is the clear high water mark for his career. Since then he has put out a few B or B+ films that I’ve enjoyed even if they didn’t necessarily break the mold, like Dick and Hamlet 2. Ideal Home comfortably slots in next to those and I hope Fleming finds a way to work with this cast again.
Verdict: Watch it. The charm of the cast manages to elevate Ideal Home above its standard story and occasional sitcom-y gags. It’s shot on location in Santa Fe and looks great, it’s a cool locale that you wouldn’t normally get in a comedy like this, so I can see why director Andrew Fleming was taken with it. There is a subplot involving Taco Bell that feels like obvious product placement, but it happens so much it kind of loops around to feeling real. Ultimately the selling point of the film is Coogan and Rudd doing a neutered version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and they don’t disappoint.