Our Son marks director Bill Oliver’s intimate sophomore feature after his acclaimed debut, Jonathan. Once again tackling resonant themes of family and identity, Oliver examines the complex fallout from a same-sex marriage breakdown. Starring Luke Evans and Billy Porter as husbands locked in a heart wrenching custody battle, Our Son bears similarities to domestic dramas like Kramer vs. Kramer. Yet its sensitively drawn leads and quiet verisimilitude lend the film a certain emotional truth.
On the surface, Gabriel (Porter) and Nicky (Evans) seem to have an enviable life with their young son Owen (Christopher Woodley). But when Gabriel drops the bombshell that he’s met someone new, their once-stable union unravels with startling speed. As this modern family faces a painful reckoning, Oliver eschews melodrama to trace the nuanced contours of life after “I do.”
There’s an almost documentary-like naturalism to the way he explores this domestic minefield. Lingering silences, weary expressions, sideways glances – all capture the profound, ineffable sadness of watching a relationship curdle and die. Amid the barbed accusations and blistering battles, we see glimpses of the affection that once bound Gabriel and Nicky together. Their shared history hangs in the air between them like ghosts.
Some may find the low-key drama too subdued, too familiar. But Oliver’s light directorial touch gives his leads room to shine. Both Evans and Porter deliver performances of enormous humanity and grace, excavating reservoirs of hurt with delicate precision. We may know where it’s headed, yet their emotional authenticity makes Our Son moving nonetheless. Its depiction of family may not be the most boundary-pushing, but in offering up these lives with great compassion, Oliver suggests that sometimes love stories don’t get happy endings – and that, in its quiet way, can be radical too.
Complex Leads Anchor an Intimate Drama
At the heart of Our Son lies the central performances from Luke Evans and Billy Porter, both of whom deliver career-best work. As husbands blinded by pain and pride, they bring profound emotional truth to this intimate domestic drama.
As Nicky, Evans exudes a stoic wounded dignity right from the start. With his soft Welsh burr and kind eyes, he makes it easy to see why the more vivacious Gabriel might have fallen for this grounded, nurturing soul. That same steadfast decency serves him less well as their union splinters. Struggling to process Gabriel’s betrayal, Evans lets us see Nicky’s world upended in micro gestures – the tense set of his jaw, the shadows gathering behind his eyes.
In one standout scene, he sits at the dinner table with his conservative family, wearing the weight of his failing marriage in the slump of his shoulders. As his teenage nephew quips awkwardly about the irony of divorce after fighting for marriage equality, Evans gives a smile laced with such sharp sadness it could draw blood. It encapsulates how far Nicky has drifted from the man he hoped to be.
As Gabriel, Porter delivers an unexpected turn, subverting his flamboyant persona to play a man drained of his once-vibrant spirit. Parenting and financial pressures have extinguished much of Gabriel’s vivacity, leaving behind flickers of discontent that Porter slowly fans into flame. With restrained theatrical flair, he conveys Gabriel’s growing frustration through pursed lips and weary exhales – the only outlet this stifled househusband has left.
In an explosive courtroom scene, Porter unleashes the full force of Gabriel’s long-buried resentment. Brandishing accusations like weapons, his Gabriel uncorks years of barely suppressed rage and hurt. Porter’s theatrical background serves him well here. Gabriel’s testimony feels almost larger than life in its blistering intensity. Yet Porter never loses sight of the profound anguish beneath the histrionics; his Gabriel is a wounded man lashing out from pain.
While Evans and Porter deliver standout lead turns, they’re buoyed by a stellar supporting cast. Andrew Rannells brings warmth and moral complexity to their conflicted friend Matthew. As Nicky’s pragmatic lawyer, Robin Weigert excavates quiet wells of compassion beneath her flinty exterior. Phylicia Rashad lends gentle wisdom as Gabriel’s mother, while Michael Countryman’s tender scene with Evans fleshes out the story’s only Conservative character.
Rounding out the ensemble is young Christopher Woodley, who brings sweet guilelessness to Nicky and Gabriel’s beloved son. Caught in the crossfire of his fathers’ disintegrating relationship, his whimpered cries after their fights capture the collateral damage divorce can inflict.
By populating their fractured world with such nuanced figures, Oliver avoids caricatured villains and heroes. These feel less like archetypes than fully realized humans – complete with flaws and virtues – reacting as best they can to loss beyond their control. Our Son may offer a familiar tale of marital collapse, but Porter and Evans’ raw, affecting performances give it heart-wrenching heft.
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Bittersweet Nuances of Life After “I Do”
While Our Son treads thematically familiar ground, Oliver brings his own meditative touch to age-old subjects like divorce, custody battles and the reshaping of family. Avoiding high melodrama, he traces the bittersweet nuances of life after “I Do.”
At its heart, this is an unusually thoughtful exploration of marriage – how affection curdles into resentment, how growing apart can be as painful as staying together. Oliver stages no villains here; just decent people undone by the gulf time and changing needs have carved between them. As their once-tidy domesticity unravels, we see how even the most loving bonds can fray from within.
Oliver and co-writer Peter Nickowitz touch on various sociocultural pressures too, from Gabriel feeling adrift without a career to Nicky’s financial strains as sole breadwinner. Yet the film resists tidy scapegoats or soapboxing. Instead problems seep slowly into the silences between our central couple – a sly comment here, a weary look there. So when it finally ruptures, their split feels less like melodrama than a relationship buckling under the subtle weight of unmet needs, neglected wounds and thwarted dreams.
At times, this pensive approach moves at a lumbering pace. But it also makes for an unusually authentic portrait of marital collapse. Oliver wisely sidesteps courtroom theatrics to linger in quieter spaces – the brooding silences of a separated spouse rattling round an empty house, or first tentative steps into an unfamiliar future. We may know where it’s headed, but there’s poignancy in watching even beloved roads reach their end.
The storyline’s few contrivances stick out amidst such grounded emotion. Gabriel’s somewhat rapid relationship troubles feel more plot device than plausibly layered life experience. And the script leans too heavily on well-worn tropes – from announcing pregnancies over mimosas to painting Gabriel’s showbiz past as fanciful folly. Had Oliver infused Gabriel with Nicky’s psychological complexity, their court battle might have shared the film’s otherwise bittersweet nuance.
Indeed, once Nicky steps into the spotlight, the narrative finds its feet. In tracing his journey from shellshocked spouse to clear-eyed single father, Oliver unearths real emotional resonance. Plot machinery of a broken family gives way to a compassionate, closely observed portrait of a man rebuilding alone. From strained conversations in his childhood home to a chance encounter with an alluring younger man, Nicky’s story holds all the love, loss, fear and liberation of shedding one life for another. It lends Our Son a touching honesty in its closing stretch.
Oliver may not reinvent the wheel with Our Son’s central storyline. But much like his leads, he brothers little interest in melodramatic fireworks. Instead he illuminates quieter human truths – about the fragility of love, the way time reshapes bonds once built to last. It makes for a melancholic honesty likely to resonate with any viewer who’s watched a once-bright future fade into memory through no one’s fault at all.
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Restrained Direction Lets Emotion Shine
While rarely splashy, Oliver’s unfussy direction serves the intimate drama well. Subtle visual language and muted aesthetics mimic the film’s melancholic mood, putting performance and emotion front and center.
Shooting on 16mm lends proceedings a slightly hazy, nostalgic sheen, as if we’re viewing cherished memories made bittersweet by time. Oliver often frames Gabriel and Nicky in windows and doorways too, glimpsing watershed moments through literal and metaphorical thresholds. It reinforces the sense of romantic, parental and personal journeys reaching inexorable end points.
When things do turn dramatic, Oliver wisely avoids melodramatic close-ups and soaring strings. Instead he often shows courtroom fireworks in wide two shots framed by negative space – placing the anguish amidst the empty void left behind after love withdraws. The camera holds its distance too during clashes, allowing focus to rest squarely on Evans and Porter’s complex performances without imposition. Oliver’s restraint directs viewer empathy with subtle skill.
Moments of visual poetry do occasionally emerge: a rollercoaster ride lit up like fireflies against the night, a merry-go-round blurring into abstraction. While largely utilized for symbolism purposes, these impressionistic flashes showcase promising formal playfulness. Given the producers behind lauded indies like Moonlight and Drive, the no-fuss style likely reflects budget more than vision. Indeed, Oliver fares better with small character beats than any visual dazzle.
The editing favors lingering reaction shots and stretches of quiet. While the film’s languorous pace won’t be for all tastes, it allows space for minute emotional shifts often lost in rapid-fire cutting. Careful sound design enriches Oliver’s naturalistic approach too – muffled dialogue reinforcing the gulf splitting our central couple, house noises emphasizing the absence left behind after love withdraws. And Ola Fløttum’s melancholy piano score works in simple counterpoint, coloring painful moments without instructing how to feel.
Our Son rarely draws attention to its construction, favoring stark emotional truth over showy craft. Some may crave more visual lyricism from Oliver’s sophomore feature effort. But by putting his formidable cast front and center within unobtrusive framing, his unfussy aesthetic approach best serves this tender meditation on marriage and its manifold sorrows. In its restraint, the film’s craft echoes its characters – direct and unadorned, with piercing moments of hard-won grace.
A Relatable, If Familiar Portrait
On paper, Our Son brings a fresh perspective by examining post-marriage equality life for a same-sex couple. Yet while undeniably well-meaning, in execution it often perpetuates familiar dynamics – both cinematic and sociocultural.
Gabriel readily slots into a stereotypically ‘feminine’ role – flighty, fashionable, preoccupied with raising a child rather than building a career. One review even explicitly references Mildred Pierce. Nicky meanwhile assumes a traditional breadwinner ‘masculinity’ – measured, stoic, more concerned with providing than nurturing. Their divide echoes heteronormative gender binaries far more than offering nuance or subversion.
While Gabriel’s characterization touches provocatively on societal pressures around male success and self-worth, the script denies him the psychological complexity of his spouse. Too often, he drifts into two-dimensional ‘scorned woman’ tropes – playing up petty marital grievances to justify his own damaging choices. It plays into reductive stereotypes about feminine irrationality and dubious moral character.
For some queer viewers or couples in crisis, Gabriel and Nicky’s dynamic may resonate as a relatable lived experience. Their predominantly affluent, white social circle reflects a recognizable (if limited) cultural landscape too. Certainly after decades devoid of multi-dimensional same-sex relationships onscreen, asking a breakout indie drama to wholly subvert dominant paradigms overnight is likely unrealistic.
Yet offering today’s couples serious representation – complex leads, nuanced modern dynamics – remains vital in validating their experiences. And with same-sex marriage rights still under legislative threat even now, ensuring screen portrayals avoid damaging cliches grows ever more crucial to cementing cultural legitimacy.
So while Our Son tells its tale with sensitivity, it often leans on regressive gender tropes over insight or subversion – especially regarding Gabriel. Rather than capture a modern marriage’s rich complexities, it broadly maps heteronormative divide onto same-sex heartbreak. What emerges then is a well-meaning but familiar portrait unlikely to feel groundbreaking for many modern viewers.
An Affecting, If Familiar Portrait
In the end, Our Son offers no radical shakeup of marital collapse dramas. Its story beats and tensions follow genre conventions pretty closely. Yet anchored in two towering lead turns, Oliver delivers an intimate indie unlikely to leave dry eyes.
Ultimately Evans and Porter provide the heavy lifting here. Any familiarity in plotting is offset by the emotional truth they excavate so deftly from characters we’ve seen many times before. Their textured performances lend real humanity to archetypes, elevating well-worn tropes into touching insight about the fragility of love.
While the storytelling plays it relatively safe, Oliver’s light directorial touch distills proceedings down to their melancholic emotional essence. In its low-key naturalism and haunting little vignettes, Our Son locates glimmers of profundity amidst quiet devastation – glimpses recognizable to anyone who’s watched a once-bright future turn bittersweet through little fault of their own.
Stacking it against contemporaries, this small-scale indie can’t match the visual audacity of a Blue Valentine, the biting wit of Marriage Story or the sociocultural impact of Brokeback Mountain. Some clunky plot mechanics and thinly sketched dynamics mean it falls short of classics like Kramer vs Kramer too. Within the textural specificity of Nicky’s journey though, Our Son finds strokes of real universality.
For fans of emotionally rich adult dramas, it makes for an affecting, galvanizing showcase of its leads’ talents, if not cinema that reinvents the wheel. Those seeking innovation or unpredictable storytelling may leave disappointed. But as a modest yet poignant reflection on marriage, divorce and courage in the face of fraying dreams, Our Sons rings with honest, compassionate truth. That may prove consolation enough for some.
Our Son offers no radical reinvention of the marital collapse drama. Its story beats trace a familiar arc, often leaning on well-worn tropes. Yet buoyed by two stunning lead turns which lend profound emotional truth to even thinly sketched roles, Oliver delivers an affecting - if not wholly groundbreaking - portrait of love's light dimming that many viewers may find packs an understated punch. For its brave performances and compassionate gaze alone, Our Son remains worthwhile viewing for fans of adult drama. Those seeking unpredictable plotting or trenchant sociocultural insight may leave dissatisfied. But as a bittersweet ode to the fragility of dreams - and courage found while piecing together new ones as old bonds fray - Oliver's modest indie sings a quietly affecting tune.
- Powerful lead performances from Luke Evans and Billy Porter
- Strong supporting cast including Phylicia Rashad and Andrew Rannells
- Authentic exploration of the emotional complexities of divorce
- Sensitive direction and contemplative pace
- Bittersweet ending offers thoughtful emotional resolution
- Plot follows predictable beats of the genre
- Supporting characters less dimensional than leads
- Pacing may be too slow for some viewers
- Perpetuates some gender stereotypes