Sum of Us, The: Kevin Dowling and Geoff Burton’s Tale of Father and Gay Son, Starring Jack Thompson and Russell Crowe

Jeff is a pretty regular guy in most ways–except he’s gay. A plumber in Sydney, he shares a house with his widowed dad, Harry. Jeff likes to throw back a few pints at the pub and is actively looking for a permanent mate.

In The Sum of Us, a comedy of manners–Australian working-class style–the extraordinary elements are contained in the relationship between father and son. Harry accepts and encourages his son’s sexual orientation and lifestyle with enthusiasm that borders on meddlesome. For once, tolerance is the focus in a film about gay people.

Jeff and Harry by turn irritate, cajole and support each other with a familial affection that is both rare and true to life. As Harry says: “Our children are only the sum of us, our parents and their parents…all their generations.”

Based on a successful Australian play of the same name, it ran over a year off Broadway in a production directed by Kevin Dowling, one of the film’s co-directors. The picture retains its theatrical origins, while widening its view to take in Sydney’s inner-west neighborhoods and annual gay Mardi Gras.

Veteran Jack Thompson is adroit in conveying the loneliness that lies below the surface of Harry’s energy and optimism. And for those who were impressed by his performance as the sadistic yet charismatic leader of the skinhead gang in last year’s cult hit Romper Stomper, Russell Crowe here shows that his range is considerably wide.

Easygoing, warm-hearted, pig-headed, easily hurt, Jeff is a young man who faces tragedy with strength and selflessness that is the core of his being. It is this small picture’s large achievement to convince us that acceptance of homosexuality is simply an act of love.

The movie is co-directed by Kevin Dowling and Geoff Burton. Dowling, a founding member and for six years the artistic director of the Actors’ Ensemble, during which time he directed more than 20 plays. In 1991, he received the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off Broadway production for The Sum of Us. He has recently directed the New York premiere of “Man in His Underwear,” and the New York revival of David Mamet’s “A Life in the Theater.” “The Sum of Us” is Dowling’s first feature film.

Geoff Burton, also a newcomer, is a 32-year-old veteran of Australian film and TV, was a cinematographer on “Sirens,” “Sunday Too Far Away,” “The Picture Show Man,” “Wide Sargasso Sea,” and “Nostradamus Kid.”