“Our Son” – Our sun [MOVIE REVIEW]
“Our Son,” directed by Bill Oliver, looks at divorce and custody from a direction rarely shown. Nicky is very happy in his marriage. As far as he’s concerned, he has it all—a handsome, creative husband, a great job that supports them in comfort, and a son, Owen, who is the light of his life. Gabriel, however, is less than content; he’s unhappy in the marriage and wants out after 13 years. He’s the stay at home dad who lovingly looks after Owen’s needs but feels stifled and unseen. Nicky is never home and when he is, he’s disengaged as far as Gabriel is concerned. Therapy hasn’t helped. Gabriel has begun looking for satisfaction outside of marriage and gobsmacks Nicky with this information. Nicky doesn’t listen; he’s never there; he doesn’t appreciate everything Gabriel does. Shocked, Nicky wants to make things better but Gabriel is through, he’s filed for divorce.
Uncooperative, Nicky at first refuses to hire a lawyer, believing that it will all go away. Of course it doesn’t. But this isn’t really about their relationship or the failings of either one. This is about the ensuing custody battle. Gabriel is fighting for full physical custody with visitation rights worked out for Nicky. As far as he’s concerned, he has always been the primary caregiver and the engaged parent. Not so, argues Nicky. He loves Owen just as much, it’s their parenting styles that differ.
The major strength of “Our Son” is how the custody battle plays out and how each adult sacrifices what might be best for the child as they hammer out their disappointments. Gabriel is clearly the most engaged but his attacks on Nicky are camouflage for his own failings. The need to assess blame is foremost in the behavior of both men. Their friends, while shocked at the disintegration of what they thought was a solid marriage, refuse to take sides. Both Nicky and Gabriel’s parents try to point out the dangers of an acrimonious custody fight. They are disappointed because their ultimate acceptance of the marital relationship was fraught with the underlying issues of sexual identity and gender politics. Still, grudgingly or otherwise, their parents were gradually won over, especially when Owen was born.
One of the outstanding aspects of this tale is that it is the age-old story of love lost and children as collateral damage, but told through a gay prism which is very little different than the one you’ve seen a million times. The characters are sympathetic and their complaints, wishes and desires are little different than those of straight couples. This is a universal story, made more universal when seen from a different angle.
If the story is more heavily skewed toward Nicky, an excellent and empathetic Luke Evans (“Murder Mystery”), it is because the writers, Peter Nickowitz and Bill Oliver, have fully fleshed out his character. A traditional breadwinner, Nicky was prone to the kind of errors that most primary breadwinners are. His primary contribution was supporting the family. He seems curiously unaware that he was disengaged as far as his partner was concerned. Their parenting styles were different but that is so often the case. The writers’ primary failure was in the superficial way in which they ended the marriage. For both the audience and Nicky, it seems to have come out of nowhere, allowing Gabriel to rupture a bond rather casually. It’s not helpful that Billy Porter (“Pose”) as Gabriel is less able to communicate depth of character.
Nickowitz and Oliver used the ancillary characters to deepen what was missing in the portrayal of the duo’s relationship. They have a very strong circle of friends played by the extremely sympathetic Andrew Rannells (“The Boys in the Band”) as Matthew, Michael Countryman (“Burn After Reading”) as Jim, and David Pittu (“Elementary”) as Ian, among others. Nicky’s lawyer, played by the formidable Robin Weigert (“Deadwood”) is remarkably empathetic and pushes Nicky toward the right decision for the child even if it’s not what he proclaims he wants.
Oliver has wisely introduced the parent figures of both men, if only briefly, because it emphasizes what kind of support each might receive. Kate Burton as Nicky’s mother and Phylicia Rashad as Gabriel’s mother add a touch of star power to the proceedings as only such great actresses can give.
What Oliver does best, however, is to tell an age-old story from a different viewpoint and take us on that journey where everything old is new again. I must admit that I was charmed and engaged as I accompanied Nicky on this learning experience.
Opening December 8 at the Laemmle NoHo and December 15 on VOD.