The Sum of Us
1994 Directed by Kevin Dowling, Geoff Burton. Starring Jack Thompson, Russell Crowe, John Polson, Deborah Kennedy.
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., April 14, 1995
Love is the greatest adventure of all, according to widower Harry Mitchell (Thompson) in the newest Australian export The Sum of Us. Co-directors Dowling and Burton mark their directorial debuts with a poignant and humorous film that celebrates the different manifestations of love between gay couples, women and men, and fathers and sons. Harry and his 24-year-old gay son Jeff (Crowe) live together somewhat in the tradition of television's The Odd Couple: Surface bickering belies a deep friendship and an even deeper parent-child connection. Yet while both men appreciate each other's company, each would like to have a romantic relationship. Harry is perhaps a little too interested in the progress of Jeff's love life; his enthusiasm to see Jeff happily involved with a deserving boyfriend threatens to overwhelm shy contenders such as Greg (Polson), a gardener for the local parks department. As Jeff haltingly pursues this relationship, Harry secretly embarks on his own quest for companionship by enlisting the help of Desiree's Introduction Agency. Through this agency he meets Joyce (Kennedy), a middle-aged divorcée who shares Harry's zest for life and desire for a friend who is also a lover. The Sum of Us explores the awkwardness of dating with great success, but it truly shines in its portrayal of the ups and downs of life within families. Thompson and Crowe establish their characters' father/son bond with apparent ease, creating slightly flawed but nonetheless appealing men whose respect and affection for each other make their relationship thoroughly engaging. When a crisis threatens to undo this relationship toward the end of the film, the resolution is that much more believable because of the actors' ability to portray such complex, human characters. Winner of the 1994 Sydney Film Festival for best film as well as numerous other accolades, The Sum of Us offers a slice of Australian life that is universal in its depiction of relationships, familial and otherwise. Rather than incorporate any cinematic bells and whistles, The Sum of Us provides a strong story fleshed out by effortless acting. As Harry reflects, “Our children are only the sum of us.” For better or for worse, children incorporate their parents' traits, and watching Harry and his son Jeff work out this equation makes for a simple yet moving film.