If there is anything worse than a parent who disapproves of your
sex life, it may be a parent who approves too much. That possibility is raised,
but not explored, in "The Sum of Us," an Australian comedy about a
dad who is so proud of his gay son that he pokes his head into the bedroom
during sex to ask how everyone would like his tea.
something unwholesome, even creepy, about the father's cheerleading role in his
son's sex life. It's refreshingly liberated, I suppose, for the dad to take an
interest, and to quiz his son's possible sexual partners on whether they
practice safe sex. But when Dad helpfully brings home gay porno magazines and
leaves them around the house, you have to wonder if there isn't something else
going on - something the movie remains willfully uninterested in.
Sum of Us" takes place in Sydney, where Jeff (Russell Crowe), a gay man in
his 20s, lives with his father, a widower named Harry (Jack Thompson). There is
a history of homosexuality in the family, going back to a grandmother who had a
has simply never bought into society's pervasive homophobia.
the contrary. When Jeff brings home a new lover, the lover is nonplussed to
discover that Jeff's father not only is in the next room, but is quite cheerful
about what might be going on in this one.
story, based on a play by David Stevens, involves the unexpected complications
that Jeff experiences because of his open-minded father. Jeff's problem is that
he despairs of ever finding a life partner. When he finally brings home a
candidate named Greg (John Polson), Greg simply cannot handle Harry's acceptance.
His own parents have no idea about his sexuality; his father is a sexist brute
who sees Greg on TV in a gay pride parade and turns mean and ugly. Greg,
depressed by Harry's acceptance, bails out ofthe
relationship with Jeff.
leaves Jeff more depressed than ever, and then the plot takes a melodramatic
turn that I will not reveal, except to say that it milks the poignancy of
Harry's love for his son to an almost cloying degree.
movie betrays its stage origins in several ways, but for me the most
distracting was how it kept "audience lines" - lines of dialogue that
must have worked well in the theater, but seem too mannered and
"written" for the movies. A sample exchange: "You know what they
say about the early bird." "Yes, but I don't think that's the kind of
worm they were referring to." Another device that gets old is the freedom
the characters have to talk directly to the camera, sometimes even turning to
wink at us in the middle of a scene. This can work, rarely, but here it creates
a false matey feeling; Harry is so intrusive he all but asks us what we'd like
in our tea.
can be your friends, yes, and your confidants, yes, and open relationships
between parents and children are possible, and wonderful. But surely some
rebellion is necessary as part of the maturing process; it may not be right for
a parent to deprive a child of any opportunity to make a declaration of
independence. "Parents," Peter Ustinov once wrote, "are the
bones on which children sharpen their teeth." But not in this household,
where Harry is so nosy, benevolent, curious and obtrusive that Jeff is hardly
allowed to have a life, let alone a sex life, of his own. Jeff feels some anger
and frustration at his father, but not enough, I feel, and as the movie slips into
its melodramatic third act, it avoids the issues that are bubbling right
beneath the surface of the story in order to get sidetracked with soap opera.
movies end with little mottoes on the screen. I have an idea for this one:
"Be careful what you ask for; you might get it."