LBGT+ filmmaking always catches my eye when checking out the exciting slate for upcoming film festivals. Who better to tackle a layered movie about divorce and parenting than writer/director Bill Oliver—his previous feature, Ansel Elgort sci-fi oddity Jonathan, was an effective and surprisingly emotional treat. Our Son weaves the complexities of a standard heterosexual drama into a beautiful story depicting the ins and outs of a modern queer family, all while collecting a cast of LGBT+ favorites.
Nicky (Luke Evans, Beauty and the Beast, Ma) and Gabriel (Billy Porter, FX’s Pose, American Horror Story Apocalypse) have been together for thirteen years; their adorable eight-year-old son Owen (Christopher Woodley) may be the needy wedge between them. At least, that is how it seems for poor Nicky, who cannot sleep right with Owen joining them in bed. A triple cuddle is cute for awhile, but isn’t Owen now a little old for the coddling? Gabriel certainly doesn’t think so—he reads Owen some Winnie the Pooh bedtime stories, and spends his every waking moment thinking about what is best for the child. He supports Owen at talent shows, and speaks to him like an actual human with emotions. Nicky’s distance reflects not only onto Owen, but negatively on his relationship with Gabriel.
The loneliness and rejection has become too much for Gabriel. Gabriel abruptly breaks the news to Nicky that he has met someone else while they lie in bed together, completely taking Nicky by surprise. They have tried therapy before, open relationships, and every other combination of solutions, but as far as Gabriel is concerned, their pairing is officially history. Nicky cannot seem to face this. Though Gabriel claims not to love him anymore, surely there is a work-around? As Nicky tries to pick apart what went wrong, he doesn’t even dwell on the potentially messy custody situation for Owen. How will the duo be able to navigate a divorce while prioritizing Owen’s wellbeing?
Friendships are put to the test. A mutual lesbian couple, deeply pregnant, and a former fling (Andrew Bannells, Girls, The New Normal) of Nicky’s who may provide a desperate Gabriel with a job are caught in the crossfire of a difficult divorce. Luke Evans and Billy Porter both do terrific work here, buoyed by a supporting cast including Phylicia Rashad, Robin Weigert, and Kate Burton. Gabriel, who left his job as a semi-successful actor to be a full-time stay-at-home dad, stays fiercely devoted to Owen in the only way he knows how. Porter plays this character with gravitas and passion, even when Gabriel’s motivations become muddled and honestly a bit frustrating. Infidelity is a tricky subject—I cannot say I related with Gabriel’s drive to escape the marriage.
On the flipside, Evans portrays Nicky’s puzzled and frazzled behavior with a sense of love and tenderness. He still feels deeply for Gabriel, not quite grasping how exactly things took a turn. My favorite parts of Our Son are when Nicky tries to discover a newfound understanding of himself. Nicky ends up at a gay club, where he catches the eye of strapping younger man Solo (American Horror Story favorite Isaac Powell). I wish Our Son had spent more time on the fringes of queer subculture, and the complicated dating waters one would be faced with approaching middle age newly single. An earlier scene when Nicky asks Gabriel “do I look middle-aged” hints at a greater dive into ageism in the gay community than the film ever explores.
Instead, other questions are at the forefront. What does it mean to be a father? Putting aside one’s own feelings, what is the best thing for the child? These are not easy questions, yet Our Son perhaps simplifies them a little too much. Potential complications arise with stakes so low it is difficult to embrace them. In spite of some flaws, Our Son is an unconventional treat that tells a small-scale story, complete with poignant messaging about fatherhood.
Our Son screened at 2023’s Tribeca Film Festival.