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‘Our Son’ review: Luke Evans and Billy Porter turn a gay divorce and custody battle into the same old same old


Does it count as representative progress when a drama about the cracks that destroy a same-sex marriage and the ensuing battle for primary custody of the couple’s child is as boring as any heteronormative version of that sad tale?

Bill Oliver’s Our son has solid lead roles from Luke Evans and Billy Porter as the dads whose lives are written on a wall together, plus a skilled supporting cast full of talented theatrical actors. Tasteful and understated, the film is treated with feeling every step of the way. But unless you count one of the men who finds post-breakup sexual distractions wrapped around a devious club boy named Solo (Isaac Powell), there’s too little here to distinguish the movie from endless other dramas about broken homes that have been made before.

Our son

It comes down to

Serious to a fault.

Location: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Story)
Form: 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 44 minutes

There is even less to put it on a level with luminaries like Kramer against Kramer, The squid and the whale or Marriage story. Without a more psychologically insightful script and less predictable story developments, Our son shows that the problems of gay couples can be just as uninteresting as the problems of other couples. Welcome to the commonplace of post-marital equality!

Stay-at-home dad Gabriel (Porter) and successful publisher Nicky (Evans) have been married for 13 years, the last eight years raising their son Owen (Christopher Woodley). Nicky chides Gabriel for indulging too much with Owen and Gabriel takes it out on Nicky about being caught up in his job and not investing enough in the boy’s life. When Gabriel reveals he is having an extra-marital affair, Nicky takes the news hard, and while the affair is soon over, Gabriel’s dissatisfaction with the marriage is not.

Nicky vows to be a better husband and father, but Gabriel has already seen a divorce lawyer and started proceedings, so he has to get his own lawyer, played with warmth and compassion by Robin Weigert. Hostility escalates and the knives emerge, or at least as close to knives as Peter Nickowitz and director Oliver’s pedestrian script allows.

The film’s conflict over who becomes the primary parent stems in part from Nicky’s anger at his husband for giving up on a marriage he feels is worth saving. Gabriel sanctimoniously insists he is the better parent, his love and care providing a family for Owen, while Nicky, the boy’s biological father, denies that he was busy earning the money to give them a home. 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 almost entirely defined by their marriage and by the gloomy or angry moods that come from the breakdown.

Nicky just signed a major author, which will be a big financial boost, but that’s about it for him. No doubt a devoted parent, Gabriel retired from acting to do yoga, go shopping, and attend PTA meetings. But as Nicky says in the kind of barb the movie could have used more of, giving up on his acting career would have required him to have had a career to begin with. Nor does Owen get much dramatic space other than the occasional shots of the boy expressing his unhappiness and confusion over the issues between dad and dad.

There is too much information in writing that is clichéd and obvious. Does anyone still buy movie kids who ask a parent to tell them the story of their birth one more time, solely for the benefit of the audience? And just because Nicky’s discussion about parenting and dads happens with the couple’s bunch of oddball friends over mimosas doesn’t make it any less didactic. The social context about negative things like divorce and custody disputes being part of marital equality territory is woven into the story, but without any new enlightenment.

The monotony of the interplay between Gabriel and Nicky, both on and off the court, is momentarily relieved by scenes involving their respective families. Nicky gets some solidarity from his sister Alex (Emily Donahoe), joking that their church people (Kate Burton and Michael Countryman) have had to deal with the disappointment of a gay son and divorced daughter and are now taking the new blow of a divorced gay son. And Gabriel receives words of cautionary wisdom during a visit from his mother (Phylicia Rashad).

The film gets a little more moving as he sharpens the focus on Nicky, first in a beautiful interlude with Owen at Coney Island and then alone, as he makes a heartbreaking decision and eventually comes to terms with it. In the less ostentatious of the two leads, Evans quietly moves in the final scenes. But Our son – underlined with somber music from frequent Joachim Trier composer Ola Fløttum – is too one note to have much emotional impact, the characters are too carefully balanced and harmless to be interesting. Most of the time it plays like a decent old-school telemovie, well-intentioned but boring.

Full credits

Venue: Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight Narrative)
Production companies: Tigresa, in association with Slated, Federal Films, TPC
Cast: Luke Evans, Billy Porter, Christopher Woodley, Andrew Rannells, Robin Weigert, Kate Burton, Phylicia Rashad, Isaac Powell, Michael Countryman, David Pittu, Cassandra Freeman, Gabby Beans, Liza J. Bennett, Nuala Cleary, Francis Jue, Bryan Terrell Clark, Alfredo Narciso, Emily Donahoe
Directed by: Bill Oliver
Screenwriters: Peter Nickowitz, Bill Oliver
Producers: Fernando Loureiro, Eric Binns, Guilherme Coelho, Jennifer 8. Lee, Christopher Lin
Executive Producers: Billy Porter, Bill Oliver, Peter Nickowitz, Monte Lipman, Dana Sano, Nicole Jordan-Webber, John Wollman, Ross Boucher, Saikat Chakrabarti, Katie Leary, Morwin Schmookler, Jorge Ortiz, Jay Burnley, Carissa Knol, Jonathan Gardner, Ali Jazayeri, David Gendron, Liz Destro, Robert Rippberger
Director of photography: Luca Fantini
Production Designer: Sophia Uehara
Costume Designer: Aubrey Laufer
Music: Ola Flottum
Editors: Zach Clark, Tyler Jensen
Casting: Scotty Anderson

1 hour 44 minutes

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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