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Does it count as representative progress when a drama about the cracks tearing apart a gay marriage and the ensuing fight over primary custody of the couple’s child is as bland as any heteronormative version of that sad story?
by Bill Oliver Our son boasts solid lead performances from Luke Evans and Billy Porter as the fathers whose life together hit a wall, as well as an able supporting cast stacked with talented stage actors. The film is tasteful, understated, and sensitively handled at every stage. But unless you count one of the men who finds post-breakup sexual distraction wrapped around a club kid named Solo (Isaac Powell), there’s too little here to distinguish the film from the endless other broken family dramas that are passed before.
Serious to the extreme.
Place: Tribeca Film Festival (fiction spotlight)
Launch: Luke Evans, Billy Porter, Christopher Woodley, Andrew Rannells, Robin Weigert, Kate Burton, Phylicia Rashad, Isaac Powell, Michael Countryman
Director: Bill Oliver
Screenwriters: Peter Nickowitz, Bill Oliver
1 hour and 44 minutes
There’s even less to put it on the level of overtime like Kramer versus Kramer, The squid and the whale OR Marriage history. Without a more psychologically insightful script and less predictable story developments, Our son shows that gay couples’ problems can be just as uninteresting as any other couple’s problems. Welcome to the monotony of post-marriage equality!
Stay-at-home father Gabriel (Porter) and successful publisher Nicky (Evans) have been married for 13 years, the last eight of which have been spent raising son Owen (Christopher Woodley). Nicky scolds Gabriel for going overboard with Owen and Gabriel teases Nicky for being caught up in his work and not invested enough in Owen’s life. When Gabriel reveals he is involved in an extramarital affair, Nicky takes the news badly, and although the affair ends quickly, Gabriel’s discontent with the marriage is not.
Nicky promises to be a better husband and father, but Gabriel has already seen a divorce lawyer and started proceedings, so he is forced to hire his own lawyer, played with warmth and compassion by Robin Weigert. The animosity escalates and the knives come out, or at least as close to the knives as Peter Nickowitz and director Oliver’s pedestrian script will allow.
The conflict in the film over who will become the primary parent stems in part from Nicky’s fury at her husband for giving up on a marriage she believes is worth saving. Gabriel hypocritically insists that he is the best parent, his love and care providing a family for Owen, while Nicky, the boy’s biological father, argues that he was busy earning the money to give them homes. Or as their friend Matthew (Andrew Rannells) puts it, “When Owen was born, Gabe fell in love with him and you fell by the wayside.”
One of the script’s weaknesses is that we never really learn much about either spouse, meaning they’re defined almost entirely by their marriage and the dark or angry moods that spring from its failure.
Nicky has just signed a great author, which will give him a major financial boost, but for him that’s all. Gabriel, unarguably a devoted parent, gave up acting to do yoga, go shopping, and attend PTA meetings. But as Nicky says in the kind of dig the movie could have used more of, giving up his acting career would require having had a career to begin with. Nor does Owen get much dramatic space beyond intermittent shots of the boy expressing his unhappiness and confusion over daddy-daddy issues.
Too much information comes in writing that is clichéd and obvious. Is there still someone who buys children’s films that ask a parent to tell them the story of their birth once again, solely for the benefit of the audience? And just because Nicky’s discussion of parenting and fathering with the couple’s group of queer friends happens over mimosas doesn’t make it any less didactic. The social context around negatives such as divorce and custody disputes that are part of marriage equality territory is woven into the story, but without new enlightenment.
The monotony of Gabriel and Nicky’s interaction, both in and out of court, is briefly eased by scenes with their respective families. Nicky gets some sympathy from her sister Alex (Emily Donahoe), joking that their clergyman parents (Kate Burton and Michael Countryman) had to absorb the disappointment of a gay son and divorced daughter and now they’re getting the new shot of a divorced gay son. And Gabriel receives words of cautionary wisdom during a visit from his mother (Phylicia Rashad).
The film gains some poignancy once it focuses on Nicky, first in an adorable interlude with Owen in Coney Island and then alone as he makes a heartbreaking decision and finally makes peace with it. In the less flamboyant of the two lead roles, Evans moves quietly in the closing scenes. But Our son – underscored with the somber music of Joachim Trier’s frequent composer Ola Fløttum – is too one-note to have much emotional impact, its characters too level-headed and inoffensive to be interesting. Mostly, it plays like a decent, well-meaning but boring old-school telemovie.