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The Sum of Us Reviews

THE SUM OF US, a warm and deeply affecting comedy-drama from down under, centers on the unconventional relationship between widower Harry Mitchell (Jack Thompson), a ferry captain, and his 24-year-old son Jeff (Russell Crowe), a plumber. The twist on this father-and-son tale is that Jeff is openly gay and Harry is boisterously supportive. When Jeff brings home his date, a handsome gardener named Greg (John Polson), Harry keeps interrupting at inopportune moments. He offers his son's suitor romantic advice, asks how he takes his tea in the morning, and discusses safe sex. Over beers in the backyard, Harry also gets Greg to open up about his feelings and dreams. Greg, who hides his sexual preference from his homophobic parents, cannot adjust to the cozy domesticity at the Mitchells'. Just when Harry finally leaves the lovers alone, Greg leaves. Jeff, who thought he had finally found someone special, is inconsolable and lashes out at his well-intentioned father. Harry is also looking for love and finds it with Joyce (Deborah Kennedy), an attractive divorcee whom he meets through a dating service. The relationship proceeds swimmingly, and they are soon discussing marriage. Then Joyce learns, to her horror, that Jeff is gay and Harry is not ashamed but proud. She breaks off the relationship, and moments later heartbroken Harry suffers a stroke. Jeff assumes the responsibility of caring for his father, who, paralyzed and unable to speak, communicates with Jeff using a buzzer rigged to his wheelchair. Harry's spirit and verve have not diminished despite his physical limitations, and he still manages to play matchmaker for his son and Greg. Disowned by his parents after they discover he is gay, Greg becomes more appreciative of Jeff's relationship with his father. As Jeff and Greg resume their romance, no one is happier than dear old Dad. David Stevens wrote the screenplay based on his award-winning stage play, which enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run in 1990. The film version racked up a slew of awards in Australia, including the best feature award at the 1994 Sydney Film Festival and top honors for the screenplay and star Thompson from the Film Critics Circle of Australia. In adapting the stage play for the screen, Stevens' only blunder was retaining the theatrical device of having the characters speak directly to the audience. A common practice in the theater, this seldom works in film and is a distraction here, especially when a post-stroke Harry delivers speeches about his frustrations at being unable to speak. Kevin Dowling, who directed the stage play, was reenlisted to helm the film version, codirecting with cinematographer Geoff Burton, whose camera is most effective in a series of evanescent black-and-white flashbacks that convey the anguish of Jeff's elderly grandmother and her lesbian lover, who are forced to separate. Russell Crowe and Jack Thompson are perfectly cast as the devoted father and son. From their "Odd Couple" banter to their wrenching heart-to-hearts, they complement each other in timing, style and temperament. Veteran character actor Thompson (BREAKER MORANT, MAD DOG MORGAN), gives one of his best portrayals here, and Crowe, who appeared in this year's THE QUICK AND THE DEAD, is being touted as the next Mel Gibson. THE SUM OF US received limited release in the U.S., its modest box office receipts attributable to its foreign origin and lack of domestic star power. Its subject matter may have also kept mainstream audiences away, and more is the pity. The fact that a father who openly supports his son's homosexuality is still considered aberrant in 1995 is a distressing notion. After all, as Harry says, our children are only the sum of us. (Sexual situations, adult situations, profanity.)