Connect with us

Enviroment

How gay is too gay? Steve Coogan’s Ideal Home accused of stereotyping

Poor Andrew Fleming: they threw a party for his movie and he wasnt invited.

“The world premiere was..

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.

Advertisement

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.

Steve Coogan (left) as Erasmus and Paul Rudd as Paul in Andrew Fleming's comedy Ideal Home.

Photo: Icon

“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.”

Jack Gore (left), as Bill, and Rudd in Ideal Home, which has drawn criticism from straight and gay people.

Photo: Icon

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.”

American writer-director Andrew Fleming says 'being openly gay is a political act'.

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 Quinn

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.

Most Viewed in Entertainment

Morning & Afternoon Newsletter

Delivered Mon–Fri.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enviroment

So, we guess this means Beyonce and Jay-Z are OK then

The first couple of pop music took the world by surprise by dropping their first album together last..

The first couple of pop music took the world by surprise by dropping their first album together last weekend. As you'd expect, it's a statement.

There is arguably no couple better at controlling their own press than Beyonce and Jay-Z. When a video surfaced in 2014 showing Bey's younger sister Solange attacking her brother-in-law in an elevator, rumours of a strained marriage proliferated.

Rather than battle the tabloids, the spouses used the gossip to fuel the creation of two critically beloved, commercially successful records: Beyonce's Lemonade and Jay-Z's 4:44. And, in them, they offered just as many details about their private lives as they chose.

Beyonce and Jay-Z on stage in France for the 2014 On the Run tour.

Photo: Rob Hoffman

Now the couple have continued their domination of pop music, surprising the world last Saturday by releasing their joint album Everything Is Love, which is something of a sequel to those two solo records. Though they have collaborated for at least 15 years, this marks their first joint album, which they dropped under the name The Carters.

The record is a victory lap from a couple who have mined their relationship for universal truths and then presented them as art. It's a fierce love letter to success, to family, to blackness – but, most of all, to each other.

Artwork for the album Everything is Love by The Carters, aka Beyonce and Jay-Z.

Photo: Karl Quinn

Advertisement

Lyrically, it primarily focuses on two aspects of the Carters' lives: their marriage and their success. (more…)

Continue Reading

Enviroment

Rachel Griffiths: female characters are finally getting real on screen

Almost a year into the #MeToo era, Rachel Griffiths believes the likes of Mystery Road, Wentworth, P..

Almost a year into the #MeToo era, Rachel Griffiths believes the likes of Mystery Road, Wentworth, Picnic at Hanging Rock and Top of the Lake show that female characters are finally coming of age on Australian screens.

In a spirited speech at the launch of a new state government scheme to support more women directors in television, the actor-turned-director said it was exciting to see female characters move beyond "the typical tropes of 'likable, f—able, adorable'" to "more complex depictions of female experience" recently.

Happy to see "more complex depictions of female experience": Rachel Griffiths (left) with Leah Purcell at the launch of #SheDirects.

Photo: Louie Douvis

While she acknowledged there were male directors who created fresh and compelling women characters, Griffiths said the "male gaze" often reduced them to colouring the characters of their male counterparts.

"[They are created to] make him hot, make him authentic, make him empathetic, make him fatherly, make him conflicted, make him grieve," she said. "In the male gaze, we are so often not the gatekeepers; we're not the ferryman. Sometimes the mentor but usually only ironically, like Judi Dench's M…

"Under-written and under-observed, brought into our sexual awareness precociously and prepubescent in order to accommodate the male libido.

Advertisement

"Often in television we're used by lazy writers and producers who can think of nothing more interesting this week than 'let's have her have sex with X' or 'discover she's a lesbian – for an episode'."

Griffiths, who is about to begin editing the Melbourne Cup drama Ride Like A Girl after finishing the shoot, endorsed Hollywood star Sandra Bullock's recent comment that it was time for women to "stop being polite" about gender equality. (more…)

Continue Reading

Enviroment

Rachel Maddow breaks down on air over Trump immigration policy

US television host Rachel Maddow has broken down on live air as she delivered the latest development..

US television host Rachel Maddow has broken down on live air as she delivered the latest developments in the Trump administration's controversial "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

Maddow, who hosts her own show on MSNBC, was reading from a breaking news release from the Associated Press that revealed government officials have been sending babies and toddlers to what are being called "tender age" shelters in the US.

The youngsters are some of the 2,300 children who have been forcibly separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border since the White House announced a zero-tolerance policy on migrant families in May.

"The AP has just broken some new news," Maddow started.

"Um, this has just come out from the Associated Press, this is incredible. Trump administration have been sending babies and other young children – oh, hold on," she said, her voice breaking.

Advertisement

Maddow attempted to get through the breaking news piece one more time before moving the show over to a guest. "To at least three – three tender age shelters in South Texas. Lawyers and medical providers… I think I'm going to have to hand this off. Sorry."

Maddow took to Twitter shortly after the segment aired to say sorry to her viewers. "Again, I apologise for losing it there for a moment," she wrote. "Not the way I intended that to go, not by a mile."

She also tweeted out what she had been trying to say in her live read, writing out what was presented in the AP story. "Lawyers and medical providers who have visited the "tender age" shelters described play rooms of crying preschool-age children in crisis…" she wrote.

"Decades after the nations child welfare system ended the use of orphanages over concerns about the lasting trauma to children, the administration is standing up new institutions to hold Central American toddlers that the government separated from their parents." (more…)

Continue Reading

Trending