The Sum of Us is delightful, by turns droll
and serious. Yet even during its most dramatic moments, it retains
a lighthearted tone that keeps things from becoming too grim. There's
always a joke right around the corner, and none of the humor seems
ill-suited to the situation. Writer David Stevens has a near-perfect
sense of his characters, and they're the sort of people it's a pleasure
to get to know. Strong, unaffected performances by leads Jack Thompson
(who bears a resemblance to the American sit-com actor Jerry Van
Dyke) and Russell Crowe (Proof, The Quick and the
Dead) emphasize our sense of Harry and Jeff as normal, everyday
There is no "fourth wall" in The Sum of Us.
The characters frequently turn to the camera -- sometimes right
in the middle of a conversation with each other -- and address a
sentence or two to the audience. The words are spoken with such
easy familiarity that this particular device is almost always more
effective than gimmicky.
The Sum of Us isn't exactly cutting-edge, but
it takes a few chances (or what might be perceived as chances by
an American viewing audience). Jeff's homosexuality is a complete
non- issue. There's nothing political or tragic in his situation.
In fact, he and the other characters frequently joke about it. Also,
no compromises are made to give the conclusion an extra lift, proving
it's possible to have a happy ending without undermining the story's
intelligence. It's production elements like this that make The
Sum of Us such a worthwhile examination of what love is like
for those whose lives don't follow traditional movie scripts.1995
The film doesn't spell it out, but you
get the impression that Jeff -- a loner, a tad melancholic and definitely
a misfit in the gay world -- is probably less comfortable with his
lifestyle than his dad is.
Staying short of smothering his tale with Harry's
aggressive cheerfulness, Stevens introduces the character of Joyce
(Deborah Kennedy), a middle-aged divorcee who meets Harry through
a dating service, gets serious and then pulls back when she learns
We also hear the roar of homophobia when Greg's dad,
a rigid martinet, happens to catch a glimpse of his son on the evening
news, cavorting at Sydney's Gay Mardi Gras. Disgusted, he promptly
banishes Greg from his home.
Ultimately, "The Sum of Us" isn't a testing ground
for straight attitudes toward homosexuality, but a testament to
parental love. Harry's love is unconditional, simple and pure, and
when it becomes necessary, it follows that Jeff should respond in
kind, with loving devotion.
It's also a film about the need for companionship
-- an impulse that transcends every kind of human division, sexual
or otherwise. There's a nice moment, early in the film, when Jeff
sits in the kitchen and tells a story to the camera that makes clear
his feelings about love.
It's an anecdote about an older woman he observed
on a train: Roaring drunk and pathetic, the woman had staggered,
Jeff remembers, and muttered something about "the agonizing pain."
knew what she meant," he says, "the lack of someone to talk
to, to have fun with, cuddle up to."
Thompson brings skill, humor and conviction to "The
Sum of Us," as does Crowe, who at 28 looks primed for stardom. My
only quibble is with the film is its use of asides -- a stage convention
in which the actor addresses the audience (or in this case, the
camera) to comment on the plot or another character.
That's a gimmick that may have worked on stage, where
flights of imagination tend to work. On film, however, where the
audience is acclimated to a literal reality, it shows the strain
--Edward Guthmann, SFChronicle March 17, 1995
Particularly in its early scenes, "The Sum of Us"
is extraordinarily funny. The film builds on theatrical direct-address
conventions to the point of comic absurdity. Harry has no qualms
about turning to the camera in the middle of a family argument and
sharing a joke with the audience. He's a true flirt, and as tough-talking
as he is, his sense of gaiety is stronger than his son's. Jeff stammers
and whines. Harry bitches with a skill for camp comebacks that should
have been encoded on Jeff's DNA.
When Jeff brings gardener Greg home from the bar,
it's Harry who turns on the charm. He shares a sofa with the pair,
shows Greg his homegrown tomatoes and even pulls out a few porno
magazines in case the pair can't get started.
The transition from farce to tragedy and back again
is seamless, especially for two first-time film directors, Kevin
Dowling (the American who oversaw the play) and Geoff Burton (a
veteran Aussie cinematographer).
The entire cast is strong, but Thompson's Harry is
unforgettable. After decades of playing he-men ( "Breaker Morant,"
"The Man From Snowy River," "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" ), Thompson
gives the performance of a lifetime playing a hard-nosed softy whose
unconditional love is returned only by his gay son. You can't help
but love him - and this film.
-- Barry Walters, March 17, 1995, SFExaminer.
Harry and Jeff are so crazy about each other that
they don't want to break up the warm and cozy relationship. When
Jeff brings home handsome gardener Greg (John Polson), Harry repeatedly
interrupts his son's attempts to seduce him. After escorting Greg
up to Jeff's room, Harry offers him some boy-toy magazines for inspiration.
He then allows just enough time to pass before popping in to ask
Greg what he'd like for breakfast.
Harry's passive-aggressive games belie his claim that
he wants his son to experience the kind of love that he had for
Jeff's mom. True, he's an intriguing, atypical character, but what's
the deal? Why is he so obsessed with Jeff's sexual orientation?
Why is he always yakking about blokes' "hairy bums"? Flashbacks
indicate that his preoccupation springs from his own mother's longtime
The same relationship haunts Jeff, who first recognized
love when he woke in his gran's room to find her sleeping in the
embrace of her lover of 40 years. "It was the most natural thing."
It's what he wants from Mr. Right: "Someone to laugh with, to get
drunk with, to cuddle up to." Of course, he's got exactly that with
The Mitchells' lifestyle becomes complicated when
Harry starts seeing a comely widow, Joyce (Deborah Kennedy). Alas,
he hasn't told her about Jeff, an omission that undermines his claim
that he is not ashamed of his son's homosexuality. The lie makes
a villain of Joyce and leads to a tragic turn of events that only
a consummate actor like Thompson could play for both buckets of
tears and belly laughs.
Thompson, best known to international audiences for
his work in "Breaker Morant," is a vintage Australian matinee idol.
He and the boyish Crowe, who made his American debut in "The Quick
and the Dead," are irresistible as the adorably dysfunctional, bear-hugging
Mitchells. The supporting cast isn't especially convincing, but
Polson's Greg looks fine in those little khaki shorts those Aussie
blokes fancy. -- Rita Kempley, March 31, 1995, Washington Post
David Stevens's play, a hit at home and off-Broadway,
became a sort of pilgrimage rite for many gays and lesbians who
dragged along (eventually grateful) parents; now you can rent the
tape, hand it over to the folks, and let the sensitization process
take its own course. This is the rare stage work that actually improves
in screen translation, maintaining intimacy while "opening up" to
lovely effect. Harry (Jack Thompson) and Jeff Mitchell (Russell
Crowe) are a not-so-unusual dad/son couple on the surface: working-class,
sharing a house in the wake of a wife's death, sparring amiably
over household chores. The big dif is that Junior is a young gay
man, and Pop doesn't mind one bit. If anything, he's too supportive,
embarrassing Jeff's dates with the back-slapping eagerness of a
potential father-in-law. One such incident cools the ardor of a
handsome young gardener (John Polson) whose own closet home life
has ill-prepared him for such openness; on the flip side, middle-aged
Harry's courtship of a lonely widow (Deborah Kennedy) crashes against
her own homophobia. Full of humor and feeling, this sweet-tempered
comedy--which really earns its late turn toward hankie-soaking drama
toward the end--sketches a depth of family understanding most gay
men and women can only fantasize about. That it comes off as utterly
believable pays tribute to the superb cast, canny writing, and astute
direction. The lack of overt preachiness makes this possibly the
best gay-positive propagandic tool mainstream cinema has yet offered.
A must. --Dennis Harvey PopcornQ movies, planetout.com