Steve Coogan, Paul Rudd, Jack Gore, Alison Pill
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…a couple of wild left field gags bring a nice tart counter-taste to the film’s tendency towards syrupiness.
Hollywood has always been pretty good at comedies with a message and this tale of an older couple looking after a ‘difficult’ kid should slot right in. The twist, if that is the right word, is that the couple are gay and they didn’t really expect to be landed with a kid.
We open with one of the pair doing what we think is an advert but turns out to be a segment in his New Mexico based TV cooking show. He is the elaborately-named Erasmus (Steve Coogan). He is camp and absurdly dedicated to making himself the centre of attention. Even in this short pre-credit sequence we can see that he is driving the crew bonkers and we derive a certain humour from the spiky relationship that necessarily pertains between him and his crew. It turns out that Paul (Paul Rudd) is his long-suffering partner both at work and home. Their bitchy sparring-match relationship certainly seems pretty wearing. In fact, Paul doesn’t think Erasmus can care about anyone but himself.
At this point they find that Erasmus’s estranged drug-dealing son has had a ten-year-old kid (Jack Gore) who turns up at Erasmus and Paul’s wildly over-decorated hacienda. It is no spoiler to suggest that the initially shitty and hostile Bill (as he decides to be named) will eventually find in Erasmus and Paul two of the most perfect parents any kid could ever hope for.
That is one of the slight problems with the film. Obviously, most audiences today would accept that same-sex couples can make fine carers, but director Andrew Fleming (Nancy Drew, The Craft, a bunch of TV) seems to want to bash us into submission over this idea such that it almost flips over into being an unnecessary campaign piece.
Then there is the casting; both Rudd and Coogan are talented and experienced actors. Rudd has the easier job in some ways as the solid dependable one who just gets on with parenting in an unfussy way. Coogan, by contrast, has always liked to take risks with audience sympathies so that we often don’t know whether we are supposed to like his persona or not, or indeed whether we like him. Here, there is an added element of uneasy sexual politics. Getting the tone right for the camp element of Erasmus’s personality is tough, perhaps more so for a straight actor.
The other thing that obtrudes is the obsession that young Bill has with the fare from a particular American fast food chain. To make this not just a plot strand but also a crucial element of character development takes product placement to a level where it threatens to swallow the whole movie. Of course, Erasmus is a pretentious foodie so the film can equally argue that it is used here as a way to bring him down to earth. These may be quibbles. The film does have a feel-good payoff. Also, there are a couple of wild left field gags that bring a nice tart counter-taste to the film’s tendency towards syrupiness.