From the San Francisco Chronicle, March 17, 1995:

Dad Is Gay Man's Best Friend
`Sum of Us' is more about parental love than it is gay life
EDWARD GUTHMANN, Chronicle Staff Critic

Friday, March 17, 1995

In "The Sum of Us,'' an Australian comedy that opens today at Bay Area theaters, Russell Crowe plays Jeff, a gay plumber looking for love in contemporary Sydney, and Jack Thompson is Harry, Jeff's dad, roommate and unflaggingly upbeat booster.

Taking a big departure from the gay son-straight father relationships that we're accustomed to seeing, Harry not only loves and approves of his son, but also does his best to fix him up with Mr. Right.

When Jeff meets Greg (John Polson), a shy, good-looking gardener, and brings him home from the local pub, it's Harry who barges in and plays host -- offering beers, chatting up the prospective boyfriend and embarrassing Jeff with his bad jokes and back-slapping bonhomie.

BASED ON PLAY
A cheery ode to diversity, tolerance and family ties, ``The Sum of Us'' is based on a play, written by Australian screenwriter David Stevens (``Breaker Morant''), that played in 1990 at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York, and in 1994 at the Marin Theater Company.

The film version, also written by Stevens, was co-directed by Kevin Dowling, who mounted the New York stage production, and Geoff Burton, a veteran Australian cinematographer (``Sirens,'' ``Dead Calm'').

Delivered with an upbeat, unabashedly gay-positive slant, ``The Sum of Us'' is played with robust spirit by Crowe and Thompson, both of whom cut their cinematic teeth on tough-fisted roles -- Thompson in ``Breaker Morant'' and ``The Man From Snowy River,'' Crowe in ``Romper Stomper'' and the recent ``The Quick and the Dead.''

At times, the film feels like a big slice of gay wish fulfillment -- an idealized look at a relationship that most gay men wish they could have with their fathers, but rarely do. Harry is such a dream -- not only a Superdad, but also cook, therapist, best pal and drinking buddy -- that you can't help thinking, ``Can this guy be real?''

In flashbacks, we see Harry joining Jeff on a gay pub crawl, where he makes friends with a pair of leather boys.

``I'd never met any woolly woofters,'' he confides in one of the film's direct-to- camera asides. ``I wanted to find out what this was all about.''

For Harry, there's no problem with Jeff being out of the closet and living at home. ``If Jeff can't be at home here,'' Dad asks, ``where can he be?''

Of course, Harry's got a head start in understanding alternative lovestyles: Years ago, his mother took a lesbian lover after Harry's dad had died.

It's not just Harry who goes against the grain of cultural stereotypes, but Jeff, as well. The antithesis of an urban gay ``clone,'' Jeff plays soccer, works as a plumber, isn't blissed out on Madonna or Barbra and chooses to live at home instead of joining the flock in Sydney's gay ghetto.

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 about Jeff.

HOMOPHOBIA'S ROAR
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.

INCIDENT ON TRAIN
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.''

``I 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 of cleverness.

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Our 'boy' has grown.
Quote:
Thompson brings skill, humor and conviction to ``The Sum of Us,'' as does Crowe, who at 28 looks primed for stardom.
Our boy has grown.


UPCOMING: TENDERNESS ~ AMERICAN GANGSTER ~ 3:10 TO YUMA



pas Penny

Be the breadbox.

Passionate when he's happy, passionate when he's sad "and when he's pissed off, he's passionate about that, too. ~ Alan Doyle