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Film review: Sum of Us, The

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Australian Harry Mitchell (played by Jack Thompson, still best remembered for "Breaker Morant") is a jolly bloke. And as he explains in one of many monologues spoken straight into the camera, he was once a womanizing carouser. But then he met his wife and settled down, especially after the birth of their son Jeff (Russell Crowe, who played the gunfigher-turned-preacher of "The Quick and the Dead").

"Love is the greatest adventure of all," Harry says repeatedly.

These days, with the death of his wife, Harry and his son live together, and he fully supports — even intervenes to help with — his son's gay lifestyle. Or as Harry puts it, "He's `cheerful' — I never could stand that other word."

Of course, Harry explains, this is what he has to do. After all, "Our children are only the sum of us." Hence the title of "The Sum of Us."

Dad is perhaps overly supportive, pushing Jeff into relationships a bit too quickly, buying him homosexual pornography and being altogether too nosy about intimate details. But then Jeff needs some pushing, as he is sullen and dour and altogether lacking in self-confidence. (He also has a foul mouth, which may put off some audience sympathy.)

The idea here isn't bad, really, a plea for tolerance, but not an unrealistically broad-based one. The film acknowledges that Harry — despite his bluster to the contrary — is not entirely comfortable with what Jeff does.

But there are a few too many subplots (romances for both father and son, a traumatic illness late in the film), and it's loaded with theatrical gimmickry (after awhile, Jeff also speaks to the camera, and there are black-and-white flashbacks that reveal Harry's sister was a lesbian).

And some elements are far too predictable and superficially handled. For example, Harry, having been out of the romantic loop for a long time, decides to go through a dating agency, which leads to his meeting the lovely but tentative Joyce Johnson (Deborah Kennedy). Their relationship is doomed, of course — foretold not only by her obvious conservatism but also because Harry is afraid to tell her about his son. And for a time, you may wonder if their story wouldn't make a good movie all by itself.

Worse, however, the aforementioned traumatic illness derails the film's best intentions toward the end by spinning off into areas that change the entire tenor of the picture.

There are noble notions here, but the film is far too heavy-handed to realize them fully.

"The Sum of Us" is not rated, but is in R-rated territory for profanity and homosexual foreplay, as well some nudity and vulgarity.