Billy Porter and Luke Evans Play Divorcing Parents

From “Kramer vs Kramer” to “Marriage Story,” Hollywood has offered no shortage of compelling tales about how divorce has a way of souring relationships — how, by their very nature, divorces dredge up the ugliest in people, making petty marital grievances balloon into resentful chasms that risk making the very process unbearable in ways both emotional and logistic. With “Our Son,” writer-director Bill Oliver (2018’s “Jonathan”) is adding an LGBTQ entry into that cinematic canon. And while this New York City-set divorce drama offers enough modern tweaks on a well-worn narrative, its emotional resonance remains elusive, muted even.

Nicky and Gabriel (Luke Evans and Billy Porter) have been together for 13 years. They’re not merely a couple. Along with their 8-year-old son, Owen (Christopher Woodley), they’re a family — one with all too neatly divided parenting duties. While Nicky spends his days at the office, trying to sign authors to his publisher, and often missing key moments of Owen’s childhood, Gabriel is a doting stay at home “Pappa” who reads his son bedtime stories and enjoys cooking his every meal.

Lurking beneath such placid domesticity is a tale of dissatisfaction: Gabriel has met someone. This despite their explicit agreement (in therapy, no less) to not open their marriage without first consulting with another — a key plot detail that proves Oliver is eager to remain authentic to 21st-century gay coupledom. Gabriel’s revelation forces both halves of the couple to reassess this family they’ve been committed to for close to a decade. It also eventually leads them to seek divorce attorneys once Gabriel realizes he wants out of a marriage he finds no love in anymore.

The ensuing divorce proceedings soon devolve into a heated standoff that only furthers the distance between the two. The sticking point becomes custody of Owen. Should he stay with Nicky, who can provide for him but whose job, flexible as it is, remains demanding enough to keep him away from home for much of the day? Or should he go with Gabriel, who has no job to speak of, yet whose commitment to being a stay-at-home dad has so shaped Owen’s life so far?

“Our Son” frames its custody battle as an opportunity for both Nicky and Gabriel to be honest about what kind of fathers and what kind of gay men they want to be — and how those questions are wrapped around not just gendered expectations but an increasingly family-focused LGBTQ community. These are thorny topics. And they make for some of the film’s most affecting discussions, didactic as they often appear since they are pegged to two characters who seem to exist solely to reflect varying points of view on the matter.

The difficulty Evans and Porter are faced with is that Oliver never quite artfully sketches out what had first drawn the pair together or what their joint vision for one another once looked like. By the time we meet Nicky and Gabriel, not only has their love curdled and calcified, but even their well-worn intimacy feels inauthentic. They’re not helped by a script that privileges — especially in its first half — clipped, short scenes that never allow the two to flesh out who these seemingly well-adjusted gay men are, both to each other but especially to themselves.

Therein lies the very tenet of the film, of course. Yet without knowing fully who these men are or were together, it’s hard to root for them to refashion themselves anew on their own. And so, while both actors find moments of bruising humanity in their characters here and there (Evans is most riveting when he confronts Nicky’s own hardened bravado with a softened touch; Porter when he finds ways of making Gabriel’s hapless vulnerability be equally vexing and understandable), their performances are hampered by a screenplay that values bluntly spelling out emotional beats rather than letting them play out on screen.

More successful — and impactful in their respective scenes — are the film’s supporting players. That includes Andrew Rannells, providing a welcome mix of wry knowingness as Nicky’s close friend, Matthew; Robin Weigert, as Nicky’s surprisingly comforting divorce attorney, proving yet again she can make even the smallest of roles sing; and Isaac Powell, utterly sexy and beguiling as a flirty stranger in the film’s late third act.

But no other actor does more with their limited screen time than Phylicia Rashad. In her one scene as Gabriel’s mother, the veteran actress delivers a soulful performance that hints at the kind of drama “Our Son” wants to be. One where generational trauma and inherited family dynamics — especially for queer men like Gabriel, though Nicky as well — are in dire need of being upended, a process only made possible by rethinking not just how marriages work, but how divorces must as well. Rashad’s warmth and insight as Maya illuminates how this tale of two men running into and away from who they’ve been and who they think they should become is rooted in a universality only accessed through its very specificity.

Gay parenting stories — let alone gay divorce dramas — are rare on the big screen precisely because they remain so off screen. Given that “Our Son” follows Nicky way past the moment when he and Gabriel settle on a custody agreement they both can live with, it’s clear Oliver is wanting to tell a story not just about an embittered divorce but a larger one about how emotional endings can also be new beginnings. In this “Our Son” treads familiar territory with arguably just enough nuances within it to merit a watch.

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