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In 1994, before Russell Crowe was a box-office superstar, he played one of the lead characters in an Australian film costarring Jack Thompson.
“The Sum of Us” is a father-son story in which the father (Thompson, as Harry Mitchell) desperately wants his gay son (Crowe, as Jeff Mitchell) to find love.
Jeff is a rugby player with a big heart, but deep-seated insecurities about himself and his worthiness to be loved. Having lost his mother as a child and having had his heart broken in his teens, he is reluctant to put himself out there. But his father – his biggest cheerleader – encourages him to try, try again.
At about the same time Jeff meets a guy he likes (John Polson, as Greg), Harry takes his own advice and enrolls in an on-line dating service, through which he meets an attractive divorcee (Deborah Kennedy, as Joyce).
The Jeff/Greg courtship starts out swimmingly until Harry barges in on them in the bedroom one evening. Harry laughs it off, but Jeff is mortified, and Greg finds the whole relationship between Jeff and his father “too domestic,” so he leaves.
Meanwhile, Joyce comes over to Harry’s house on New Year’s Eve – her first visit there after several successful dates – and while looking around, she discovers some racy male magazines purchased by well-meaning Harry for his son.
Joyce loses it, and she accuses Harry of lying by omission by not telling her about Jeff sooner. She storms off. Harry walks outside to see the celebratory fireworks, and while he gazes upward, he suffers a massive stroke.
Jeff’s role suddenly becomes that of caregiver, and Thompson’s character – robbed of speech in the film – frequently breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the viewer about the things he can’t communicate as Harry.
Joyce learns of Harry’s stroke and comes to see him at his bedside, and at the door she meets Jeff for the first time, and he charms her. By the time she leaves, she confides in her daughter, who was waiting in the car, that she feels foolish for having been so judgmental.
Giving away the ending to this remarkable film would be a sin. Suffice it to say that Greg reappears in a heartwarming, if somewhat uncertain, way.
The closing credits roll as Jeff rolls his father’s wheelchair out of a park in Sydney, with Crowded House singing “You Better be Home Soon” as the Opera House and the harbor come into view.
See it. You’ll thank yourself.