LGBT Movies: Our Sons (1991)

Julie Andrews and Ann-Margaret play the disapproving mothers of a gay couple (Hugh Grant and Zeljko Ivanek). Zeljko’s dying of AIDS so the women go on a road trip to visit them. Cue fights, tears, and some very large wigs. I stumbled upon Our Sons on the streaming site TUBI. How had a film with these stars vanished from discussions of LGBT cinema? I assumed it would be a disaster. Instead it’s a well-meaning melodrama with a sprinkling of camp.

Curious? Then read this spoiler filled recap.

Act One: A Trip to Arkansas

Julie Andrews and Hugh Grant visit Zeljko Ivanek in the hospital. Note the matching hairstyles.

Scene One: L.A. Office Building
JULIE ANDREWS (a business woman): Buy! Sell! Contracts! Deadlines!
HUGH GRANT (her son): My lover’s dying of AIDS.
JULIE ANDREWS: Why didn’t I know this? And why are you speaking with a clumsy American accent?
HUGH GRANT: Because I grew up in L.A. and we never talk. His mother disowned him. Can you fly to Arkansas and get her?
JULIE ANDREWS: What a ridiculous thing to ask. Of course, I will.

Scene Two: Arkansas Trailer Park
ANN-MARGARET (a waitress): What ‘chu want, rich lady?
JULIE ANDREWS: I’m your son’s friend. He’s dying.
ANN-MARGARET: I HAVE NO SON! HE’S AN ABOMINATION.
JULIE ANDREWS: HE’S GOING TO DIE, YOU STUPID B****!
ANN-MARGARET: YER SON MUST BE ONE A’ THEM TOO!
(Julie slaps Ann. Ann slaps Julie. Julie flushes Ann’s wig down the toilet. Julie storms out.)
TRAILER PARK EXTRAS: Why was a rich lady here? Did you win a contest?
ANN-MARGARET: Yep. Muther of the year.

Act Two: A trip to L.A.

Costume Designer Van Broughton Ramsey dresses Julie Andrews and Ann-Margaret in contrasting outfits for their first meeting.

Scene Three: Road Trip
ANN-MARGARET: Changed my mind. But I’m skeered a planes.
JULIE ANDREWS: Well then, I’ll rent us a fancy car and play classical music. To establish that I’m a snob.
ANN-MARGARET: I ain’t so bad. Didn’t you freak when yer son told you?
JULIE ANDREWS: OF COURSE NOT! I’M A LIBERAL! I would never reject my son for telling me he’s an abomination who will never give me grandchildren.
ANN-MARGARET: What does my son do?
JULIE ANDREWS: He’s an architect. He designed my summer house. I don’t know much else about him. We don’t speak … but not because I disapprove of him ruining my child.  
ANN-MARGARET: Architect, huh? He always liked to draw.
(Pulls a drawing of a castle out of her purse.)

Ann-Margaret dresses up and Julie Andrews dresses down for their second meeting.

Scene Four: Hospital Room
HUGH GRANT: I called your mother.
ZELJKO IVANEK: SHE HATES ME! I’M HAVING A PANIC ATTACK! I DON’T WANT TO SEE HER!
HUGH GRANT: Should I send her home?
ZELJKO IVANEK: No.
ANN-MARGARET: Hello son. I brought one a yer drawings. I’m sad yer dying but YOU BROUGHT THIS ON YOURSELF YOU SINNER! Sorry…. Julie Andrews has a pool. But she never swims.
ZELJKO IVANEK: You should swim. It will symbolize rebirth.
(Ann Margaret returns to the pool, takes off her wig, and dives in.)

Act Three: Saying Goodbye

Ann-Margaret wears one of Julie’s power suits when she visits her son. She keeps her distance.

Scene Five: Outside the Hospital
JULIE ANDREWS: Ann, your son’s not “one of them.” My son’s not “one of them.” They’re “our sons.”
ANN-MARGARET: You talk big lady but you got internalized prejudice to overcome.
JULIE ANDREWS: She’s right. Hugh, I’m sorry I froze you out of my life with my chilly British disapproval.
HUGH GRANT: Apology passive aggressively accepted.
JULIE ANDREWS: Do you have it?
HUGH GRANT: I’m afraid to get tested.
JULIE ANDREWS: Get tested.
HUGH GRANT: No. No… Okay.

Scene Six: Airport
ANN-MARGARET: That was a lovely service. Thanks fer bein’ so good to my son. I’ve got somethin’ you should have.
(Ann-Margaret hands Hugh Grant her late son’s drawing. Then gets on the plane.)

THE END

Practically Imperfect

Julie Andrews removes her power suit armor. She’s ready to open up to her son.

Allen Sabinson, executive vice president of ABC’s TV-movie and mini-series division, told the Times that ”the primary thrust of the promotion will be the two actresses….We are not going to hit people over the head with the notion of AIDS and homosexuality.”…. Well, why the devil make a TV movie about gay men and AIDS in the first place, then? Why exploit this tragedy as a showcase for two stars?

Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly

ABC broadcast Our Sons on May 19, 1991. People Magazine praised it. Entertainment Weekly and the L.A. Times snubbed it. Co-producer Micki Dickoff claimed that it inspired parents to reconcile with their gay sons. So why did Our Sons vanish while films like An Early Frost (1985) and Longtime Companion (1989) still get discussed? Perhaps because the latter put their gay characters up front to tell their own stories. Or perhaps because Our Sons isn’t very good.

Ann-Margaret’s character has a predictable journey from closed-off bigot to loving mother. Julie Andrews has the more interesting role. She thinks she’s accepting. When she visits Zeljko in the hospital she immediately takes his hand, where Ann-Margaret is afraid to touch him. But she’ll slowly come to terms with the prejudice that’s been bubbling under the surface. The camp comes from the class politics. The clash between working-class American and corporate-class British is expressed in every costume change, music selection and hairstyle. Ann-Margaret’s wig is the last thing she takes off before diving in the pool. Moments like that inspire cackles, and they aren’t all intentional.  

You can watch Our Sons here. You can read more reviews of LGBT media here.