Film

‘Ideal Home’ Has Been Slammed As “Too Gay”, But For Who Exactly?

We should be extremely tired of people telling gays how to perform.

Ideal Home can best be explained by three things: a fairly pedestrian plot, some incredibly hilarious dialogue and some unapologetically gay content. But it’s this last point that has generated the most negative criticism of the film, and that’s a shame, because the film’s bold queerness provides so much of the fun.

And while I’m sure some criticism is coming from a place of good old fashioned homophobia, that’s not even the biggest problem. Criticism from left leaning and queer media has focused on the so-called ‘stereotypically gay’ main characters as a problem. It’s been slammed as a “tiresome camp comedy”, a “retrograde big-screen bitchcom”, “horribly outdated” with “human cartoons whose sexuality is used as the punchline of almost every joke.”

The film has even been accused of featuring “Birdcage-style stereotypes that could set the cause of same-sex equality back years.” Yikes.

The film’s writer-director, Andrew Fleming, even had a friend respond to the film by asking:  “Is it maybe just a little too gay?”

Too gay for who?

A Big Gay Story

The plot follows the story of a gay couple who live a fairly fabulous, if shallow, life. Erasmus Brumble is a narcissistic TV chef, played to utter perfection by Steve Coogan, who manages to balance the comedy of utter self absorption with some real charm and vulnerability. His partner is the far more butch Paul Morgan, whose exasperation and waspish wit is played very ably by Paul Rudd.

The conflict arrives in the form of Erasmus’s previously unknown grandson, who shakes up their empty lives and teaches them to appreciate each other, yadda yadda yadda. Take away the big queerness of the characters, and it’s not a particularly new plot.

Honestly, I don’t want to oversell this film — it’s not the hill I will die on — but it is a lot of fun. It’s also going to be very enjoyable for anyone who wants to see Steve Coogan have a lot of fun with a really ridiculous character.

But Ideal Home is funny, and unabashedly focused on a gay relationship. Some of the biggest laughs come from extremely gay moments — my favourite being the joy of watching Coogan’s face as he’s interrupted mid-bottoming, or the absurdity of the couple being told off by a school teacher for their kid saying “butt-fucking”.

And what’s important is that it doesn’t feel like we’re laughing at them because they’re gay — in fact, it felt the other way around most of the time, like we were being allowed to laugh along with them, from a very gay perspective. We’re being let in to the queer experience.

The accusations of the characters being “too camp” and “too out-datedly stereotypical” begin to feel a little like policing. It feels like their brand of sometimes over-the-top fabulosity isn’t as palatable anymore. People want them to calm down.

There was a time when audiences wanted gay men to be Carson from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy or Jack from Will and Grace — because that’s what was entertaining at the time. Now people just want gay men to conform.

But we should be extremely careful of people telling gay folk how to perform.

Too Gay To Function

“Not to be indignant, but I feel like this is my truth and if it makes you uncomfortable, that’s your problem”, says writer-director of Ideal Home, Andrew Fleming.

Part of the reason we can be relatively sure that this movie wasn’t crafted as a way to earn coin from outdated sassy camp stereotypes is because Fleming is not only gay himself, but based the characters and the story off his own relationship. The fact that it’s straight actors playing gay men is another problem entirely, which deserves a wider conversation — but at least they lean into the whole thing and kiss and do gay sex scenes together. At least we have that.

In this interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Fleming says he was “gobsmacked” at the accusations of stereotyping in the film, noting that it came from both straight and queer critics.

“If it makes somebody uncomfortable … to see somebody be that affected or flamboyant, that’s something you should talk to somebody about,” says Fleming, specifically about criticism from within the queer community. “That’s internalised homophobia.”

Internalised homophobia is not uncommon in the queer community. You only have to wade into the fetid sexlands of Grindr to see repeated calls of “masc 4 masc” and “straight acting only” and “no faggots”. There’s a backlash against the feminised, camp gay man, which is a weird twist of logic considering we’re all on the app to more efficiently suck dick.

There was similar criticism around the irrepressible Jonathan Van Ness, the grooming guru from the new Queer Eye reboot. There was this idea that he was a “bit much”, with the implication that he was hamming up his campness for TV and somehow playing into the tropes. But there’s a reason we use irrepressible to describe him — JVN is his best and pure self all the time, and that’s not only beautiful, it’s aspirational and brave. Especially with the amount of people criticising him for being himself.

It’s worth remembering that it’s proudly out and camp queers of all types who have been on the receiving end of homophobia and bigotry for years, and who were forced to be activists and flag bearers for the gays of today.

Less Gatekeeping, More Gay

Andrew Fleming is more than aware of the kind of gay stereotypes out there — but chose to make Erasmus and Paul extremely camp deliberately.

“I feel the cliche at this point is this really straight-acting guy who says, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m gay’. That’s the trope you see on TV, because it’s easier to handle. But the truth is most gay men have some kind of affectation, and we were very clear that we didn’t want to shy away from that. Because that is not what I see in the world — that’s not how the gay men I know behave.”

Ideal Home isn’t perfect, but it shouldn’t be dragged for its depiction of gay men. There are so many types of queer relationships out there, and the one depicted in the film — two wealthy white cis men — isn’t even particularly revolutionary or noteworthy.

But it is a depiction that comes from truth, and we have got to stop gatekeeping how queer people are meant to behave.

Ideal Home is in cinemas now, it’s really quite funny.

Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.