A prolific film and television director and producer, Andrew Fleming is the director of films such as Hamlet 2 starring Steve Coogan and Nancy Drew with Emma Roberts. He was recently the Executive producer/director on the Netflix series Insatiable, of which he directed the pilot. Additionally, he recently directed episodes of Younger for TV Land, Lady Dynamite for Netflix, and Red Oaks for Amazon. He directed the pilots for Bad Judge at NBC, Odd Mom Out for Bravo, and Difficult People for Hulu, all of which were ordered to series. He has a long career in features, including co-writing and directing the 1988 psychological thriller Bad Dreams, the satirical political comedy Dick, starring Kirsten Dunst, Michelle Williams and Will Ferrell, and The Craft, a supernatural thriller about teen witchcraft, starring Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell and Rachel True. Fleming’s latest comedy feature, Ideal Home starring Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan, is out through Brainstorm Media on June 29.
Recently while editing my new film, Ideal Home, in which Paul Rudd and Steve Coogan play a sharp-tongued, dysfunctional gay couple, a good and smart friend gave me interesting feedback after a screening. He asked, “Is it possible the film is just … a little too gay?” I thanked him for the note and, after considering this for a while, realized that nobody ever asks the question, “Is it possible that the film is just … a little too straight?” Beginning the film, I truly thought we inhabited a post-homophobia world; now I see that even the most well-intentioned people are afraid of gayness. What happened?
A quick word about the perilous and heartbreaking world of indie film: If you make a small film without theatrical distribution, you have to get into one of two or three particular film festivals that serve as marketplaces for distributors. Failing this, you and your little film are doomed.
With this in mind, imagine my dread when the head of a prominent U.S. film festival said my film was “making fun of gay people,” and declined to program it. Seriously? I’ve been openly gay for a long time and Ideal Home is extremely personal and I wrote it and directed it, so am I making fun of myself? Then a programmer at another major North American film festival also declined to include Ideal Home, saying it was “something that should have been made 10 years ago.” But it wasn’t. It’s essentially a gay Nora Ephron movie (if that isn’t redundant), a gay romantic comedy. So even if the film sucked (it doesn’t), it should be embraced for its novelty, as well as for its delightfully comic performances by Coogan and Rudd. Instead, the movie has endured high-tension bouts of producorial hand-wringing, and a snowstorm of executive note-giving. I’ve had to fight to protect Ideal Home like I never have a film in 30 years of directing. Yes, 30.
You can count on one hand the number of major motion pictures that depict gay love as the main story. I’ve liked and appreciated all of them, but to the last, each one is serious or romanticized or tragic in a way that does not resemble my life. There are millions of gay couples around the world. What happens to their story after they have been together for a decade and have made mistakes? Where is the beautifully infuriating and sublime mess that is a long-term gay relationship? Where is the richness of real experience? It’s there on the big screen, but usually the characters represented are straight people.
When the festivals and every major distributor rejected the film, I was philosophical and moved on, until now, because about two weeks ago I realized I was very busy with screenings at gay film festivals. I’ve been to three in the past 10 days, with more to go. These festivals triggered my thousand-yard epiphany. The film was rejected by the major “straight” film festivals specifically for its depiction of gays, but then it was accepted by pretty much every single gay film festival. Stir that together and take a whiff. What does it smell like? A potent mixture of hypocrisy, homophobia and social progress in reverse.
An Italian journalist told me the other day that the movie traffics in gay stereotypes. (!) She wondered if I was doing harm to the gay community. (!) The truth is, I prefer chardonnay to beer. I dislike professional sports. I have a picture of myself with Liza Minnelli. And I’ve worn leather chaps to dinner. I’m a gay stereotype, except for the fact that I’m an actual person. My movie is composed entirely of things that happened to me.
Steve and Paul and I very intentionally made a very gay movie. We were tired of seeing the cleaned-up version of gays: the tasteful, well-behaved couple next door; the gorgeous D.A. who’s also a lesbian, though you’d never suspect it. Most of the gay men I know, act, well, gay. It should be OK to show that. If you’re straight and the film makes you uncomfortable with its gayness, that’s socialized homophobia. If you’re gay and it makes you uncomfortable, that’s internalized homophobia. And you need to talk to a shrink about that.
The big joke is I just wanted to make a funny gay film and I stumbled into a minefield of fear and anxiety about how we feel about ourselves. That said, I love Ideal Home more than anything else I’ve ever done and whatever angst has been hurled my way has been vastly overwhelmed by love and positivity. Last night listening to 700 people laugh and applaud at a — you guessed it — gay film festival, I asked myself, would I do it all again? In a heartbeat, Miss Mary.