Julie Andrews makes her TV-movie debut in Our Sons as Audrey, a successful San Diego businesswoman whose son, James (Hugh Grant), is gay. James’ lover, Donald (Zeljko Ivanek), is dying of AIDS, and he has long been estranged from his mother, Luanne, a lower-middle-class Arkansas woman played by Ann-Margret. Andrews’ Audrey has, ostensibly, a close relationship with her son; by contrast, Luanne has cut off all contact with Donald for years because she cannot accept his homosexuality.
The movie is about the way Donald’s impending death forces these two very different woman to meet for the first time. In the process, Luanne learns to overcome her prejudice, Audrey learns that she wasn’t quite as open-minded as she’d always believed, and the two women go from hate-at-first-sight to mutual respect. And, oh yes, Donald dies.
The script, by William Hanley (The Kennedys of Massachusetts), is more than a little calculated. As Ann-Margret recently told The New York Times, ”AIDS is just the catalyst that brings these two women together.” 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.” It would seem that ABC doesn’t want a repeat of the right-wing protests and advertising pullouts that occurred over a thirtysomething episode featuring gay characters last season.
Now. look — Sabison has often seemed an intelligent executive, but in this case, his network is being weaselly. The movie’s director, John Erman, also directed An Early Fost, the taboo-breaking 1985 TV movie that told the story of an AIDS-infected gay character. He said of Our Sons, ”It’s much safer to take the route of dealing with the two mothers” as the protagonists.
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? This is to take nothing away from Andrews and Ann-Margret, both of whom transcend their ugly stereotypes (Andrews is upper-class and therefore intelligent and liberal; A-M is working-class and therefore dumb and bigoted). And it’s also not to deny the skill of Grant and Ivanek, who transcend their own set of imposed stereotypes (Grant speaks in fussily elaborate sentences; Ivanek watches old movie musicals and quotes Judy Garland a lot.)
Our Sons means well, and performances are above reproach. But it’s also an infuriating piece of work that insults the intelligence of everyone invoked, especially its audience. D