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Scenes From a Divorce

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MOVIE REVIEW
Our Son (2023)

It’s no one fault, or it’s both their faults, but even with the best will in the world sometimes marriages just can’t be saved. In the case of book publisher Nicky (Luke Evans) and stay-at-home dad Gabriel (Billy Porter) neither of them has been perfect – overwork here, infidelity there – but the main issue is their different parenting styles for their son, Owen (Christopher Woodley), and the resentment which has seeped in until it’s the only thing they can feel. But “Our Son” is not a gay “Marriage Story,” even if that’s the easy marketing tagline which brought it to BFI Flare. Instead it’s about ordinary adult disappointments between an ordinary couple who happen to be gay and the ways in which their homosexuality directs the choices around their completely ordinary divorce.

Life seemed pretty good before the split – the family lives in a huge, tastefully decorated Brooklyn brownstone and has a supportive (and entirely homosexual) friend circle, most importantly Claire (Liza J. Bennett) and Judith (Gabby Beans), who are beginning their own family, and social worker Matthew (Andrew Rannells). But Gabriel is feeling invisible in his marriage, while Nicky can’t believe that Gabriel isn’t interested in the nuances of the career which provides their gracious living. After a bad argument Nicky wants to consider options, but Gabriel moves out, prompting many tears from Owen and stunned surprise from their chosen family. When Gabriel files for divorce, Nicky is so blindsided he actually asks his lawyer (an excellent Robin Weigert) if all of this is necessary.

But while Nicky can eventually accept his marriage is over, he will not accept that Gabriel has asked for full custody. It is to his entire credit that, while being Owen’s biological father, he’s adamant that Gabriel is unquestionably a full parent as well as the main caregiver. But he is absolutely horrified that Gabriel would, by asking for full custody instead of a 50-50 split, seem to deny that Nicky was a full parent himself. Mr. Evans, more normally seen onscreen in swords-and-sandals or fast cars, here is perpetually brimming with tears as he attempts to reconcile his image of his family with the way in which Gabriel is behaving. Nicky is also surrounded by a wide support network, including Owen’s biological mother, Adele (Cassandra Freeman), and his own family.

The script by Peter Nickowitz and Bill Oliver (who also directed) doesn’t offer Gabriel the same attention, which is a strange choice. The legal drama largely takes place offscreen; and there’s no scene where Gabriel verbalizes his thought process the way Nicky has ample opportunity to. This is possibly because Mr. Porter is the weaker actor here, demonstrating either hashtag-positivity or inarticulate resentment that doesn’t stand up to Mr. Evans’s nuanced and shifting combinations of misery and disbelief. That being said, there’s an excellent scene between Gabriel and his mother (Phylicia Rashad) in which she directly lays out for her son how she thinks he’s replicating his own childhood in Owen’s. And there’s also young Mr. Woodley, in his first film, who manages to show a young boy who’s overwhelmed and unhappy but without overdoing it.

The wealth of its setting removes any of the struggle less comfortable couples have when their relationships break down, and the warmth of their community means that both Gabriel and Nicky will be able to move forward eventually. There’s so much love and care around Owen there’s no question that the kid will be just fine, too. This is not perhaps the most dramatic of movies, but that itself is an important assertion of adult gay lives in all their mature complexity. Mr. Porter made a great point in the press notes about how he can no longer bear to watch coming-out stories, because those are for the kids, and he is an adult. “Our Son” is a definitely a gay movie by, for, and about adults; and the rarity of this makes it essential viewing.

Plus Mr. Porter and Mr. Evans sing a duet over the closing credits.

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