MOVIE REVIEW | ***AUSSIE WEEK*** The Sum of Us (1994)

Sum of US
When a movie is about a hot button issue of the day, it’s kind of a double edged sword.  If it works and plays a part in changing attitudes for the better, it also works in dating itself and making it seem more and more out of touch as time goes on.  The Sum of Us manages a rare feat.  20 years after its release, I don’t know if it was super progressive in its attitudes towards homosexuality, or if Australia as a country has barely changed in its attitudes towards homosexuality in the two decades since.  Because a lot of The Sum of Us seems surprisingly in sync with the Australia of 2014.

While it follows a single set of characters and sticks to a simple, chronological timeline, The Sum of Us is more like three episodes of a TV show, than one complete movie.  Part one follows Jeff (Russell Crowe), a plumber and footy player in his early 20s who also happens to be gay.  He lives with his father, Harry (Jack Thompson) and is in pursuit of a crush, Greg (John Polson).  Over the course of a single night, we get to see the easy, accepting dynamic between father and son.  Harry never misses an opportunity to show how accepting he is of his son’s sexuality, and it usually manifests in a joke.

When Jeff brings Greg home after their first date, Harry’s over familiarity and over insistence to show how OK he is with the whole gay thing starts to get creepy.  Not in any way because of the whole gay thing, but in a way that it would be creepy if a parent of either sex talked that openly with a child of any sexual persuasion.   It’s just weird.

Part two leaves Jeff on the sidelines and follows Harry on a whirlwind courtship with Joyce (Deborah Kennedy), a fellow person of a certain age he meets through a dating agency.  At first I wondered why a story that seemed so focused on Jeff’s sexuality for the first third would spend the next third ignoring it.  But that becomes clearly deliberate once Jeff’s existence is injected into the story of Harry and Joyce.

Part three largely leaves the love interests behind to focus almost completely on the father, son relationship.  And while technically less happens here, and there’s no big climax, the earlier sections setup some really great payoffs that make this last half hour or so the most satisfying.

The biggest downside of The Sum of Us is its obvious origins as a stage play.  The house of Jeff and Harry always looks like a set, never like a real house.  But the main problem is in the overly rehearsed, overly “Acted” performances.  You can tell every single word, inflection and stutter, every single movement, action and reaction has been rehearsed, refined and workshopped to the point of the actors sunning o auto pilot.  Jack Thompson, Russell Crowe and John Polson all do a great job…  If I was 10 rows back in a theatre watching a play.  On the screen, none of it ever seems real or in the moment.  There are times when they break the fourth wall, talking directly to the camera, where I swear they give the odd pause, as if giving a live audience a moment to laugh.

Despite that, the rest of The Sum of Us makes it more than watchable.  You can see why Crowe went on to be a massive star, but you can’t see what would make so many people now see him as a massive dick.  And Jack Thompson as the Aussiest Aussie bloke Australia has ever produced is always gonna be entertaining.  Or as his character from The Sum of Us would probably describe it, “bloody bonza, you little ripper, mate.  Now get me a flamin’ beer, cobber.  I’m as dry as dead dingo’s donger”.

The Sum of Us
Directed By – Geoff Burton, Kevin Dowling
Written By – David Stevens

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