June 24, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Bill Oliver
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “Our Son” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white and some Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two divorcing husbands fight for primary custody of their 8-year-old son.
Culture Audience: “Our Son” will appeal primarily to viewers who are fans of the movie’s headliners and who are interested in watching divorce dramas from a gay male perspective.
“Our Son” might get some comparisons to the 1979 Oscar-winning drama “Kramer vs. Kramer” because of the many similarities, but “Our Son” is more like a made-for-TV movie instead of an Oscar-worthy film. The convincing performances elevate this formulaic divorce drama when the pacing drags. “Our Son” had its world premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival.
Directed by Bill Oliver (who co-wrote the “Our Son” screenplay with Peter Nickowitz), “Our Son” has so many characteristics that are just like “Kramer vs. Kramer,” people who’ve seen “Kramer vs. Kramer” will know exactly how “Our Son” is going to end within 15 minutes of the movie starting. The main difference between the two movies is that the divorcing couple fighting over child custody is a heterosexual couple (played by Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep) in “Kramer vs. Kramer,” while the divorcing couple fighting over child custody in “Our Son” is a gay male couple, played by Luke Evans and Billy Porter. But even if viewers don’t know anything about “Kramer vs. Kramer,” it’s still very easy to predict the outcome of “Our Son” as soon as the divorce starts to happen.
Both movies take place in New York City. Both movies have an adorable son under the age of 10 who’s the only child of the divorcing couple fighting over custody of him. Both movies show that one person in the marriage is the more nurturing parent, while the other person in the marriage is the more emotionally distant parent. Both movies have the lower income of one parent used as a reason in the divorce battle as “evidence” that this lower-income parent should not have primary custody.
In the very beginning of “Our Son,” the marriage of Nicky (played by Evans) and Gabriel (played by Porter) seems to be solid but stuck in a rut. It’s not mentioned how long Gabriel and Nicky have been married, but they’ve been a couple for 13 years. Nicky and Gabriel have an 8-year-old son named Owen (played by Christopher Woodley), who is a high-energy and curious child.
Nicky is a workaholic who is consumed with his work as a book publisher. Gabriel is a former actor who gave up acting to become a homemaker after Owen was born. Gabriel is the parent who spends more time with Owen and has a closer emotional bond with Owen. Gabriel also gets help from an amiable babysitter named Isabella (played by Nuala Cleary), who visits the family home multiple times a week.
Owen was born in Philadelphia to a surrogate named Penny, who is not involved in Owen’s life and is not seen in the movie. Owen was conceived through artificial insemination using Nicky’s sperm. The egg donor is Adele (played by Cassandra Freeman), Nicky’s longtime friend from college. Adele, who currently lives in London, has no say in how Owen is being raised. She considers her egg donation to be a gift to Nicky and Gabriel. Adele is seen as a family friend, but she is not in regular contact with Owen.
From the movie’s opening scene, the cracks begin to show in the marriage of Nicky and Gabriel. After Nicky and Gabriel go home from watching Owen dance at a school talent show, Nicky and Gabriel immediately disagree on how they react to Owen’s dance performance. Gabriel gives Owen a small token gift to show his admiration for Owen, while Nicky says the gift is unnecessary. Nicky’s reasoning is that he doesn’t want Owen to be spoiled, while Gabriel sees nothing wrong with giving Owen this gift.
Later, in their bedroom, Nicky and Gabriel argue in private about their different parenting styles. Gabriel expresses frustration that Nicky isn’t more available for parenting responsibilities. Nicky’s response to Gabriel is: “Sometimes, I feel like you don’t appreciate my work.” Gabriel vehemently denies this accusation.
Nicky and Gabriel also disagree about Owen sleeping in their bed with them whenever Owen wants. Nicky thinks Owen is too old for it, while Gabriel thinks that Owen can still sleep in their bed. Gabriel and Nicky call a truce on this argument, give each other a light kiss, and then go to sleep. But there’s more trouble brewing ahead.
Gabriel and Nicky’s social circle consists almost entirely of other LGTBQ people. Two of their closest friends are a lesbian couple named Claire (played by Liza J. Bennett) and Judith (played by Gabby Beans), who happily announce at a dinner party that they are expecting their first child together. Gabriel and Nicky are at this dinner party and express sincere congratulations. But seeing Claire and Judith so happy about becoming parents seems to trigger something in Gabriel.
When Gabriel and Nicky go home from the dinner party, Gabriel makes a confession to Nicky: “I met somebody. Somebody I have feelings for.” Nicky is shocked, because he and Gabriel had agreed to be monogamous, after experimenting with being in an open marriage. (The “open marriage” part of the relationship is never seen in the movie.)
Nicky demands to know who Gabriel’s lover is. “It’s nobody you know,” says Gabriel, who tells Nicky his lover is someone he met at a nightclub about six weeks ago. Gabriel also tells Nicky that he’s sorry for the affair but he’s undecided about what to do. Nicky is hurt and upset, but he still wants to save the marriage.
Meanwhile, viewers see that Gabriel’s lover is a younger man named Will (played by William Demeritt), who meets up with Gabriel for a sexual tryst after Gabriel has confessed the affair to Nicky. During this hookup encounter, Will isn’t exactly thrilled when Gabriel suggests that Will, Gabriel and Nicky should all meet for a drink together to talk things over. Will isn’t just annoyed; he’s completely turned off by the idea. He coldly tells Gabriel, “I can’t go to an emotional place with you because you’re married.” And that’s the end of the relationship between Gabriel and Will.
Gabriel tells Nicky that his relationship with Will is over. A relieved Nicky thinks the end of this extramarital affair will mean that Gabriel will want to work on their marriage. However, Gabriel mournfully tells Nicky that he hasn’t been happy in their marriage for a very long time. Gabriel doesn’t think going back to couples therapy will work either. Gabriel then leaves the home while he figures out what to do next.
Gabriel can’t stay away from Owen for long, and he eventually comes back to the family home. Although Gabriel was the one who cheated, Nicky takes some responsibility for their failing marriage too. Nicky tells Gabriel: “I know I’ve gotten lazy in our marriage. I know I could do better. I could be better.” Gabriel says, “I love you too, baby. I don’t think it’s enough anymore … I’ve spoken to a divorce attorney.”
And so begins the divorce battle between Gabriel and Nicky. Gabriel eventually tells Nicky that he doesn’t love Nicky anymore. Nicky doesn’t want the divorce and goes through all the five stages of grief over the end of the marriage. Because Gabriel had essentially been raising Owen like a single parent before the divorce, Gabriel incorrectly assumes that Nicky will automatically agree to let Gabriel have primary custody of Owen.
Nicky gets angrier the more that he starts to hear about how much alimony and child support he would have to pay to Gabriel if Gabriel had primary custody of Owen. Nicky also feels very hurt by Gabriel rejecting Nicky and refusing to get back together. These negative feelings from Nicky escalate until he decides he’s going to fight for primary custody of Owen. Nicky’s main argument in this custody battle is that he’s the more stable parent because he earns a lot more money than Gabriel.
Gabriel’s financial situation is shaky but not alarming. After filing for divorce, Gabriel gets his own place (a small apartment) and a low-paying job helping homeless youth at a non-profit center. The person who got him the job is a talkative friend named Matthew (played by Andrew Rannells), who has been working at this non-profit for the past 10 years. Matthew is one of the friends who was at the dinner party where Claire and Judith announced that they are going to become parents.
Nicky and Matthew briefly dated each other when they were “23, newly out, single, and living in the city,” according to Matthew. Their romantic relationship didn’t work out, but Nicky and Matthew decided to remain friends. Naturally, Matthew feels caught in the middle of Nicky and Gabriel in this divorce/custody battle. Matthew tries to stay neutral, but it’s awkward. “Our Son” realistically shows how divorces and similar couple breakups also have an effect on friendships.
Nicky hires a tough-minded and ambitious attorney named Pam (played by Robin Weigert), who happens to be a lesbian. Gabriel’s attorney is the more easygoing Lorenzo (played Alfred Narciso), who is no pushover either. The expected arguments ensue between Nicky and Gabriel. The divorce also takes a toll on Owen, who has a hard time accepting that his parents are not getting back together.
“Our Son” also shows how Nicky reluctantly gets back into the dating scene during his divorce. He meets an attractive younger man named Solo (played Isaac Powell) at a nightclub. And everything that you think will happen does happen after Nicky and Solo flirt with each other. The sex scenes in “Our Son” are not completely explicit, but they’re definitely meant for adult viewers.
“Our Son” capably explains some of the legal issues involved in this type of custody battle. For example, Pam tells Nicky almost from the start that just because Nicky is Owen’s biological father, that doesn’t mean Nicky has more parental rights than Gabriel, because Nicky and Gabriel legally adopted Owen together. Why can’t Nicky and Gabriel agree to joint custody of Owen? Gabriel believes that Nicky’s job is too demanding for Nicky to have the time for joint custody.
Porter and Evans give admirable performances that show the nuances of why couples who thought they would be together for the rest of their lives end up splitting up due to incompatibility. (Stay for the end credits to hear Porter and Evans duet on the song “Always Be My Man.”) It would have been very easy to portray Nicky as the “villain,” but there are no real “villains” in this story—only people who get hurt by the pain of divorce.
Owen’s arrival in the relationship did not cause the breakup of Gabriel and Nicky, because their incompatibility issues were already there. Nicky and Gabriel both have their share of flaws and responsibilities in why their marriage failed. But who’s the more deserving parent to have primary custody of Owen? You’d have to be asleep for most of the movie to not see the answer that you know is coming.
“Our Son” goes deep with some raw emotions, but this type of divorce/custody battle has been done on screen so many times before (especially in TV shows), it all seems overly familiar. The movie’s supporting characters are mostly underdeveloped. Kate Burton has a small role as Maggie, also known as Miggie, who is Nicky’s mother. Likewise, Phylicia Rashad makes a brief appearance as Maya, who is Gabriel’s mother.
Even with the movie’s clichés and flaws, “Our Son” does a very good job of showing how there’s not much difference in divorces between gay couples and heterosexual couples. In the production notes for “Our Son,” filmmaker Oliver says when co-writing the screenplay, he drew from a lot of his own experiences of being a gay parent. That authenticity comes through in a lot of the movie’s dialogue and scenarios, although “Our Son” somewhat glosses over many of the racial issues that would come up in an interracial marriage and custody battle for an interracial child. A talented cast and interesting main characters are ultimately what save “Our Son” from sinking into a mediocre mush of melodrama.