No matter what a man might have done to bring himself to an AIDS-ridden state, at the very least, he's entitled to two things: a fond farewell among his loved ones, and a proper burial. Few could have played out these sentiments more simply and rivetingly than in "Our Sons." Even in the bright San Diego sunlight, there is a pall of melancholy that hangs over everything in this movie--a ghost of yearning for tenderness and tolerance. It's an elegy that plunges through sharp differences of opinions, and, unlike most great homages, finishes with a sweet, somber sigh. I cannot remember when I've been moved so strongly by a TV movie.
Julie Andrews stars as a businesswoman whose homosexual son, exhausted by the ordeal, reveals that his lover is dying AIDS. They have drifted apart, because although it had never been expressed, she is deeply disappointed with the situation, and harbors a faint hope that he might change. Under the mistaken notion that the best thing for his lover is to reunite him with his own mother, he asks her to travel to Arkansas to make a personal appeal. The problem is what separates this Mother and Son is not a tacit agreement to quietly disagree, but out-and-out rejection and gut-wrenching revulsion. The war breaks out between the two mothers as they wrestle with their strong feelings about their sons.
Julie Andrews has never been known for playing mothers. Her clipped diction and stilted manner made her a more fitting nanny or governess, I think, than a living, breathing, nurturing bearer of children. It's these qualities that make her right to play Audrey Grant who has distanced herself from her son, because she doesn't want to admit that she hates what has happened. Andrews has never looked more radiant than she does here. It's as if the blood has finally started coursing through her veins. She looks recognizably human, and she has never seemed smarter than she does here.
Ann-Margret doesn't seem any fitter to play a mother than Andrews, but she has always been known for her ferocity. Witness her going at John Forsythe in "Kitten With A Whip" or her eyes flash at a cockfight in "The Cincinnati Kid," and you'll know what I mean. But the abuses the women she played could heap upon the men in their lives, her Luanne Barnes can't quite get away with with another woman. She and Andrews go at it tooth-and-nail, and what comes of it are their most powerful performances ever.
As Luanne's son Donnie, Zeljko Ivanek is the humiliation every parent fears, the skeleton most fathers and mothers want to stay in the closet, the jack-in-the-box they'd just as soon lost its spring. Donnie knows how his mother feels about him, and he wrestles with the prospect of a painful reunion as bravely as a dying man can. Writer William Hanley has blessed him with a love of movie dialogue and a take-things-as-they-come buoyancy. Ivanek knows what to do with a part this good. He flies with it, and he never comes down. With him playing Donnie, you can understand how he could attract someone who looks like Hugh Grant (who plays Audrey's son James as if he had a terminal case of lockjaw) and who could make a mother like Luanne Barnes see what a waste her rage and rejection was.
John Erman, who also directed another good AIDS picture "An Early Frost," is an intelligent director; he knows when he has something good in front of him and when to get out of the way. The moral of the story may be a bit simplistic for some people's taste: that if we don't love our children, who will? But I think this movie stands alone on the subject of AIDS; it's the most powerful movie about it I've ever seen.
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