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THE SUM OF US

Australia, 1994 (MIFF 1994)

Director: Kevin Dowling, Geoff Burton

Aimed at a broad international audience without ever losing its specifically Australian verve and visual vernacular, The Sum Of Us (an engaging screen adaptation of David Stevens' popular play, staged worldwide) is a real surprise. A unique mix of rowdy Ocker humour and honest portrait detailing the not-so-straightforward vagaries of love and family remains.

Jack Thompson puts in the performance of his career as Harry, the ferry driving father who is so personally at ease with and supportive of, his son's gay sexuality that he is prone to interrupting Jeff's dates with a beer and a chat regardless of the late hour. The continually astounding and charismatic Russell Crowe plays Jeff, an athletic, 20-something plumber who still lives with his dad. Father and son are close, the added intensity of their relationship a reflection of the loss of wife and mother some years earlier. While both are best of mates each is lonely and seeks company. Harry's strategy involves Desirees' Introduction Agency where he eventually meets Joyce (Deborah Kennedy), who responds to his considerable (if old-world) charm. Jeff, meanwhile, is interested in Greg (John Polson) who he has met at the local pub.

Set in Sydney's inner-west, it's the evocation of blue collar Australian life that makes The Sum Of Us so appealing and together co-directors Kevin Dowling and Geoff Burton have created what may be the most 'user-friendly' coming out movie ever.

This warm and affectionate film about lives we know or could easily brush with in the street is also surprisingly outlandish at times and refreshingly candid. It is the fusion of these elements that makes for an unusual and entertainingly seamless film, one which at once flaunts its theatrical origins (especially the characters cheeky asides to the camera) whilst effortlessly opening out a richly evocative suburban milieu for the big-screen. Stevens (co-director of Breaker Morant and director of A Town Like Alice and The Clinic) grew up in Melbourne's inner-west where the play was originally set. That producer Hal McElroy has been able to make a film so faithful to the spirit of Stevens' original piece without having to dilute the heady concoction of comedy and crisis, is a credit to him and his team. The combination of two talents as co-directors has also paid off handsomely. Dowling and Burton; the former a respected American stage director who had mounted the production in the US and knew the material intimately; the latter a leading Australian director of photography with numerous major credits to his name (Sunday Too Far Away, The Year My Voice Broke, Sirens); have brought their respective visions to the film and forged a work of astute observation and heartfelt humour.

That it places an issue as important and timely as the straight world's struggle to come to grips with homosexuality, back into the most personal and painful of realms, the family, is the film's greatest strength. As Harry says, "our children are only the sum of us: our parents and their parents. . . all the generations."

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