'Sum of Us' raises issues, then avoids them

By Roger Ebert
Universal Press Syndicate

If there is anything worse than a parent who disapproves of your sex life, it might be a parent who approves too much. That possibility is raised, but not explored, in The Sum of Us, an Australian film 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 their tea.

It's refreshingly liberated, I suppose, for the dad to take an interest. But when dad helpfully brings home gay porno magazines and leaves them around the house, you have to wonder whether there isn't something else going on -- something the movie remains willfully uninterested in. The movie takes place in Sydney, where Jeff (Russell Crowe), a gay man in his 20s, lives with his father, a widower named Harry (Jack Thompson).

The 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.

That 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.

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. Sometimes movies end with little sayings on the screen. I have an idea for this one: "Be careful what you ask for; you might get it."

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