Poor Andrew Fleming: they threw a party for his movie and he wasnt invited.
“The world premiere was, unbeknownst to me, in Australia,” the American writer-director says of Ideal Home, which opened Mardi Gras Queer Screen festival in Sydney in February, then played at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival the following month. “I found out about a week before. It was a little last minute but I could have flown down.”
Trouble is, no one asked him, and a few months on it still smarts. “It really did bother me that nobody contacted me,” he says. “Somebody should have said something. I felt like an idiot.”
As it happens, that oversight is far from the only sore spot the 52-year-old has in relation to his comedy, which stars Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd as a gay couple in Santa Fe who suddenly find themselves parents of a 10-year-old boy (Jack Gore).
Coogans cowboy-hat-wearing, white-wine-swilling celebrity chef Erasmus – and to a lesser extent his TV producer partner Paul (Rudd) – have been derided in some circles as Birdcage-style stereotypes that could set the cause of same-sex equality back years.
That criticism has come from straight and gay people, admits Fleming, and it hurts because while the film is clearly a work of fiction it draws heavily from his own experiences.
Like Paul, Fleming was in a relationship with a man who had a child from a heterosexual relationship (the boy in the movie is Erasmus grandson). Like Erasmus, he can be rather flamboyant at times.
“I prefer chardonnay to beer, I have a picture of myself with Liza Minnelli, Ive worn chaps to dinner,” he says, citing three of the films more overt markers of “gayness”. “Am I a stereotype or am I a person?”
He says he was “gob-smacked” when he first heard the word stereotype bandied about with respect to his movie, and it forced him to do some soul-searching. But in the end, he concluded that “if it makes somebody uncomfortable … to see somebody be that affected or flamboyant, thats something you should talk to somebody about. Thats internalised homophobia.
“Not to be indignant, but I feel like this is my truth and if it makes you uncomfortable, thats your problem.”
They may be both drawn from and larger than life, but Fleming insists his characters serve a strategic purpose too. Having such out-there leads “was deliberate”, he says, an antidote of sorts to a different type of gay stereotype that has emerged in recent years.
“I feel the cliche at this point is this really straight-acting guy who says, Oh, by the way, Im gay. Thats the trope you see on TV, because its easier to handle. But the truth is most gay men have some kind of affectation, and we were very clear that we didnt want to shy away from that. Because that is not what I see in the world – thats not how the gay men I know behave.”
Its certainly not the way Paul and Erasmus behave. Theirs is a kind of pastel-hued dream of middle-aged responsibility-free indulgence. They have a luxurious ranch in New Mexico, eat and drink and travel fabulously, dabble in spiritualism and yoga, host raucous and occasionally drug-fuelled dinner parties, and have a comprehensive collection of gay porn movies on DVD, most of them hilarious riffs on the titles and subject matter of mainstream Hollywood films (Bareback Mountain hardly even counts since it is, as Erasmus concedes, merely a gay-themed play on a gay-themed movie).
Their relationship, though, is far from rosy. They bicker endlessly, are professionally competitive and generally seem just one ill-advised remark away from breaking up for good.
In other words, theirs is far from the ideal home in which to raise a young child.
Again, Fleming was drawing from what he knew here. His own relationship ended shortly before filming began. “It was difficult, but you use what youve got,” he says.
He remains close to the son of his ex-partner, and he and the ex share custody of a corgi. “It was complicated for a while, but its worked out fine. Theyre family.”
Much has changed since Fleming first put a gay character on screen, in his 1994 movie Threesome, in which The Good Wifes Josh Charles played a college student who begins to look at his roommate (Stephen Baldwin) with more than mere academic interest even while hes involved with a female roomie (Lara Flynn Boyle).
“I remember screening that movie in middle America and it made people very uncomfortable to have a gay character checking out a guys ass,” he says.
The countrys attitudes to sexuality have evolved greatly since then, of course. Fleming tells me that his boyfriend is a teacher at a school whose most popular student is a boy who wears full make-up. Gay couples used to feel safe being out only in cities such as New York, San Francisco or LA, but now the places where they need to be cautious are the exception.
“The country changed so much over the course of the 90s,” he reflects. “Maybe its reductive, but I think Will & Grace really changed everything, more than any single movie or political rally or movement. That and Modern Family – just having gay characters who are unapologetic in your house week after week, it really changed things.”
That said, making this movie was, in many respects, an eye-opener.
“It was a real struggle to make, it took a long time and once it was made I dealt with a lot of weird – I have to say homophobic – reactions to it.”
He cites the example of a well-meaning (straight) friend who asked at a preview screening, “Is it maybe just a little too gay?”
“I thought about that,” says Fleming. “Nobodys ever said to a director, Is it maybe a little too straight.”
He suspects the question stemmed from the fact Erasmus and Paul “are not exactly model citizens. Theyre fighting and theyre drinking and theyre engaging in irresponsible behaviour and theyre flawed and selfish and messy people. Theyre not noble, sterile, perfect, heroic gay characters. Theyre messes. And I think that makes some people – gay and straight – uncomfortable.”
Given that, and the ugly shift in civil society in the wake of Trumps election, does he see Ideal Home as an issues movie wrapped inside a comedy? Or is it a comedy pure and simple?
“There were a few scenes [in the screenplay] that had a whiff of a polemic in them, that were about me suggesting the idea of fighting homophobia. But I took them all out because I felt like we were in a post-homophobia world.”
But with a week of filming to go, a gunman opened fire in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others. “And I was, What was I thinking?
“Of course its all political – being openly gay is a political act. But theres nothing more boring than speechifying,” he says.
“It was meant to be fun, I want to hang with those guys, even though theyre snarky.”
Ideal Home is out now.
Karl has been a journalist at Fairfax Media since 1999, in a variety of writing and editing roles. Karl writes about popular culture with a particular focus on film and television.
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