When we meet the father and son of the warm and deeply affecting "The Sum of Us," they strike us as typical Aussie blokes who have an especially close and affectionate relationship. They are in fact typical--the father is a robust, middle-aged Sydney ferry captain and the son is a plumber. They are both great-looking, masculine men. It's a kind of afterthought to mention that the son is gay.
Jack Thompson's Harry, however, is extroverted while Russell Crowe's Jeff, who is neither shy nor withdrawn, tends to seem understated in comparison to his life-force father.
Some time seems to have passed since Harry lost his wife, but her death has left its mark on both father and son. As it happens, Harry is now ready to apply to a dating service, just as Jeff has met a new man, Greg (John Polson).
In the first of a number of beautifully sustained sequences, Harry unwittingly overdoes the accepting father routine. In his eagerness to see Jeff find happiness and to demonstrate his supportiveness, he ends up making himself such a nuisance when Jeff brings Greg home for the first time that he succeeds only in driving Greg away.
Greg is overwhelmed by Harry, who is such a jarring contrast to his own profoundly homophobic father. Jeff finds himself retreating from romance while Harry meets Joyce (Deborah Kennedy), an attractive woman with whom he clicks instantly yet whom he hesitates to tell that his son is gay.
Then there's an effective development that transforms everything, with Harry becoming determined that his offspring leave his comfy nest and find his own true love.
David Stevens, in adapting his own play, gives an old heart-tugging plot--in which a parent must get a devoted child to take care of himself--a fresh spin with the son's gayness. The film's Australian setting, furthermore, gives it a pungent particularity. In the land of Crocodile Dundee, gay men are often as macho as straight guys, and there's an open bluntness about both homosexuality and homophobia.
In making his directorial debut, Kevin Dowling made the shrewd move of sharing the directing credit with his veteran cinematographer, Geoff Burton. The result is an unusually self-effacing transposition of a play to the screen, one that has some acute visuals, none more so than a moment in which we see the TV glimpse of Greg in a gay parade that so horrifies his father.
* MPAA rating: Unrated. Times guidelines: There are some mild homosexual and heterosexual love scenes.
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'The Sum of Us' Jack Thompson: Harry Mitchell Russell Crowe: Jeff Mitchell John Polson: Greg Deborah Kennedy: Joyce Johnson A Samuel Goldwyn and Southern Star presentation in association with the Australian Film Finance Corp. of a Hal McElroy-Southern Star production. Directors Kevin Dowling & Geoff Burton. Producer Hal McElroy. Executive producers Errol Sullivan & McElroy. Screenplay by David Stevens; based on his play. Cinematographer Burton. Editor Frans Vandenburg. Costumes Louise Spargo. Music supervisor John Hopkins for Screensong. Production designer Graham (Grace) Walker. Art director Ian Gracie. Set decorator Kerrie Brown. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
* In limited release at the Beverly Center, 8500 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 652-7760; Westside Pavilion, 10800 Pico Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 475-0202; South Coast Village, Sunflower across from Sears, Costa Mesa, (714) 540-0594.