Writer-director Andrew Fleming was a constant presence in multiplexes – well, his films were – across the 1990s. The Craft is the most remembered, but it’s well worth digging out Threesome and Dick too, as well as his 2008 Sundance hit, Hamlet 2. In recent times, his film output has thinned, which given his natural comedic and human touch has been a pity.
Ideal Home, his first film since 2014’s Barefoot (itself his only feature in a decade, with Fleming instead concentrating on TV work), reunites him with Steve Coogan, his Hamlet 2 star. It’s an independent mix of comedy and drama, that casts Coogan as Erasmus, a celebrity television chef who bickers with his collaborator and boyfriend Paul (Paul Rudd). Their life is thrown down a very different path, though, when Erasmus’ 10-year old grandson Angel, through very film-y story circumstances, comes to live with them. The framework of the film becomes immediately apparent. Erasmus has no idea what to do with children, and has regrets over the relationship in the past that led to said child. Paul freaks at the idea of a child coming into their lives. The child won’t even tell the pair his name. Nothing could go wrong, right?
The story thus travels a familiar path, and yet there’s material here that lifts it. Coogan in particular is terrifically spiky as Erasmus, a blend of vanity and vulnerability, along with tip-top comedy timing, that serves the film well. Rudd, too, is the metaphorical straight man in the comedy partnership, and it’s unflashy, quality bearded work that he puts in.
Furthermore, the film’s funny. Watching Coogan and Rudd on screen together is a real pleasure, and Coogan offers the most memorable uttering of the words “Dances With Wolves” since the Academy handed Kevin Costner an Oscar.
Bits of the film around the outsides of these characters don’t work quite as well. The moments where Angel’s father come onto the scene feel narratively necessary more than particularly interesting. Furthermore, the film does take a little while to get motoring, not really a luxury it has with its commendable hour and a half running time.
Also, the film treads a very fine line between pulling the leg of stereotypes, and relying on them. The core couple are utterly matter of fact about their relationship, and for the most part, so is the film. Yet it still has a few lines and moments here and there that feel a little out of their time.
But I think Ideal Home wins more than it loses. It certainly delivers as an engaging comedy, with a core central comedy duo I’d very much like to see on screen together again. Furthermore, there’s a montage of photos over the end credits that I found really quite touching, and made one of the points of the film far more potently than the movie itself.
It’s nature of the independent movie beast that Ideal Home has struggled to get distribution, with a VOD and small cinema release the best it’s going to get. It is worth seeking out, though, as there’s a good amount to enjoy here, and a fair few chuckles. It’s also good to see Andrew Fleming back making features. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we see another.
Ideal Home is in selected UK cinemas from Friday, and on digital HD.