SumofUscoverGrade: B
Entire family: No
1994, 100 min., Color
Olive Films
Rated R for language, sex talk and sexual situations
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS 2.0
Bonus features: n/a
Amazon link

Russell Crowe’s first appearances in feature films came in 1990, when the New Zealander began working in the Australian film industry. Just two years later Crowe would be cast to star as a tough skinhead in Romper Stomper, while in 1994 he would show his sensitive side playing a dutiful gay son in The Sum of Us—the last Australian film he would make before taking his talents to Hollywood.

For that reason alone, The Sum of Us will be of interest to movie-lovers—though it would be an unusual and unlikely choice for family viewing, unless the family wanted to face issues like sexual orientation and elder care head-on. David Stevens adapted his own play for the screen, and he and directors Geoff Burton and Kevin Dowling are absolutely clear about what message they want audiences to take away from the film: Life is short; love people for who they are, as they are not an aberration, but the sum of family members who passed on their DNA or helped shape them in other ways.

The Sum of Us is a study in contrasts. Widower Harry Mitchell (Jack Thompson, The Man from Snowy River) lives with his adult gay son, Jeff (Crowe), and Harry is the poster child for unconditional parental love. He not only accepts his son for who SumofUsscreenhe is, but he tries to understand what it means to be gay—yes, that includes going to clubs with his son—and he encourages his son to talk openly about his relationships. However, when Jeff brings his latest boyfriend-to-be home, Greg (John Polson) is shocked by Harry’s openness. Greg’s parents don’t even know he’s gay, and when they find out, the father wants nothing more to do with his son and the mother is so shocked into dumb silence that she can’t stop the father from kicking the young man out of the house. It’s clear which way is right, if for no other reason than Harry himself is a likeable, blunt force of nature. He loves life and makes it clear how much he loves his son and accepts him and everything he does. The film’s other main contrast comes from a woman that Harry meets through a dating service. Joyce (Deborah Kennedy) got divorced after her husband left her and she’s ready for love again. With Harry, she seems to have found it. But like Greg’s parents, she has a hard time dealing with homosexuality. Will it get in the way of her happiness and Harry’s? Will Greg and Jeff get together despite Greg’s discomfort over Harry’s full knowledge of what they do in the sack?

SumofUsscreen2Those are the dramatic questions that drive this character drama, which, it’s safe to say, isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of ribald references to gay sex, and Crowe and Polson engage in one hot-and-heavy man-on-man make-out session. It’s clear where they were headed before Harry interrupts them, but all clothes stay on. If it were hetero sex it would barely deserve a mention, and that’s worth noting.

The Sum of Us seems designed to make audiences think about homosexuality in a more compassionate way, it’s a film that families with older children might watch together—especially if members suspect that one of them is in the closet and wanting to come out. Yes, it’s rated R, but not for nudity and not for sex—rather, for language and frank talk about sex and sexuality. And despite the topic, it’s a film that’s so very much about the warm-and-caring commitment that comes from family love, the love that trumps everything else. Sexual orientation aside, it’s the kind of film that can have you looking past family member faults and focusing on what’s important.

Language: Mostly Australian swearwords, so it may go over young heads
Sex: Nothing graphic, just that make-out scene
Violence: None
Adult situations: Drinking, smoking, flamboyant club attire, frank sex talk
Takeaway: The Sum of Us might be one of the more memorable and poignant films about father-son relationships.