The Sum of Us (1994)

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Released 30-Oct-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Notes-Press Gallery (4)
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Awards
Gallery-Photo
Interviews-Cast-Jack Thompson
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 95:24 (Case: 138)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Kevin Dowling
Geoff Burton
Studio
Distributor
Southern Star
Shock Entertainment
Starring Jack Thompson
Russell Crowe
John Polson
Deborah Kennedy
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $29.95 Music David Faulkner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes, Russell smokes pot in one scene
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    The Sum Of Us is a very worthwhile film to watch for four reasons:

  1. We get to see Russell Crowe before he became super famous, in a performance he should be proud of and which displays early indications of his strength as an actor,
  2. Jack Thompson gives what must be the highlight performance of his career,
  3. the film is shot in Sydney, Australia, AND
  4. it is a heartwarming, beautifully told, subtle, quirky, quintessentially Australian, romantic, funny and down-to-earth story about a man and his gay son, plus the son's lover and society's attitudes towards homosexuality.

    Jeff Mitchell (Russell Crowe) is your typical stereotypical Aussie working-class man. Ruggedly handsome, unabashedly masculine, easy going with a larrikin streak about him, he works as a plumber by day and plays footy in his spare time with his mates. And he also happens to be a homosexual, or, as his father puts it, "cheerful."

    His father Harry (Jack Thompson) is relaxed about his son's sexual preference. In fact, Harry is so relaxed about it that he buys gay porn magazines for his son, cracks ribald jokes with him, encourages and supports his son in finding a partner, and even interrupts his son in the middle of a steamy session with a boyfriend to ask what sort of tea they would like in the morning!

    Father and son have lived together ever since wife/mother died and both are achingly lonely. They make the usual odd couple who can't stand each other's bad habits but remain the strongest of friends.

    Jeff brings home a prospective boyfriend, Greg (John Polson). Greg comes from a dysfunctional family where the father is a bigoted brute and the mother is completely timid and submissive. Needless to say, Greg has been keeping his homosexuality a secret from his family. When he sees the relaxed and open relationship that Jeff has with his father, it is all too much for him and he flees, much to the disappointment of Jeff.

    Harry in the meantime is missing the companionship of a woman and decides to join a computerised dating service. He soon meets divorcee Joyce (Deborah Kennedy) and they get along so well that they are even contemplating marriage.

    However, the world literally crashes on Harry when Joyce finds out that Jeff is gay and she cannot accept Jeff's homosexuality. What happens next?

    This film was based on a stage play by David Stevens (who also wrote the screenplay). The common stage convention where characters turn towards the audience to deliver monologues has been preserved. Many have criticised this "artificiality" but I find it completely charming and quirky. We get to peek into the innermost thoughts of Harry and Jeff, plus experience some of the best and funniest dialogue in the film. I love it when the characters wink at us or roll their eyes - it is done so subtly at times that we are completely drawn into their private world.

    Many of the delightful scenes in this film revolve around typical heterosexual type behaviour and situations exhibited or encountered within a homosexual relationship. The shy and almost bashful courtship outside the pub could have been replicated line by line by many a respectable young man and woman during a church social or school dance. The scene where Jack gently probes Greg and brings up the subject of safe sex could have been a conversation a concerned father of a precious daughter might have had with a prospective boyfriend. The anxiety of "Will he or won't he?" is familiar territory to many a teenage girl just before a big date. Finally, we are all familiar with the scenario of prospective lovers pleading the "headache" excuse to their partners because they are confused, nervous or uncomfortable! The subliminal message here is that gays are not "freaks" or lead unnatural lives - they have the same sets of values and behaviours as everyone else.

    The film also captures the social/economic/geographical strata of Sydney well. Harry and Jeff reflect the open-minded attitudes and "shabby comfort" working class lifestyle of inner city Balmain. Joyce and her daughter reflect the more conservative attitudes in the upper middle class surroundings of harbourside Manly. Greg and his parents represent the narrow-minded and repressive attitudes of dreary suburbia. (I'm trying to avoid saying the "w" word!)

    I also feel that this film has one of the most convincing and realistic depictions of a homosexual relationship captured on celluloid. Compared to a film like The Birdcage, which seems to depict a heterosexual stereotype of what a gay relationship is all about, The Sum Of Us underlines the fact that homosexual relationships are as complex and as "normal" as heterosexual ones. The two young men do not fit traditional stereotypes of "butch" and "femme" roles and underline the point that each of us have male and female characteristics.

    Jeff is outwardly very masculine and butch - a man's man. He is completely relaxed and open about his sexuality, to the extent that he makes other people comfortable about it too. I suspect he has many heterosexual friends and is unlikely to get beaten up in a dark alley at night. However, in matters of the heart, he behaves almost like a teenage girl. He falls in love easily and craves commitment and companionship. His anxiety and his excessive grooming prior to going to the pub reminds us of a girl just before a big date. When someone leaves him, he is heart-broken and depressed. In a crucial scene he reflects on a memory of encountering a devastated woman in a train agonising over presumably the ending of a relationship - we see that he completely identifies and empathises with her.

    Greg, on the other hand, is outwardly more "pretty" and somewhat effete. We sense that he is used to being teased as a "poofter" by his work colleagues and it is not a new experience for him. His father probably senses his "femininity" and is disgusted by it even before his sexuality is revealed to his parents during a Gay Mardi Gras television broadcast. Greg is not comfortable with his sexuality and craves a masculine, confident partner. However, in terms of relationships, Greg behaves more like a typical male (I'll leave it to you to find out what that means!).

    The ending has also been criticised for being somewhat artificially constructed. Again, I for one am not complaining and find it satisfying.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is presented in 1.33:1 but I was unable to verify whether this is a pan & scan or full frame (open matte) transfer. I suspect probably the former rather than the latter. Unfortunately, I was not able to track down a widescreen version of this film in any other format/region (the laserdisc edition is also in 1.33:1).

    Having gotten that off my chest, the transfer is not too bad, although it looks like it is sourced from a composite telecine master. I noticed a fair amount of dot crawl around the opening titles.

    The film source itself is relatively free of marks, although it is a bit grainy. The transfer is slightly soft and dull, but thankfully is free of compression artefacts. Black levels are reasonably good.

    There are no subtitle tracks on this single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track on the disc: English Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s). I found the high bitrate to be quite beneficial to the audio track as it makes it quite solid and dynamic.

    Although the Dolby surround encoding flag has not been set, the audio track is actually surround encoded. This can be verified by clear instances where the ambience in the background music carries through to the rear speakers. It is quite noticeable around 20:54-21:37 and also 67:44-68:45. In general, however, the film is rather dialogue focused so there is not much surround channel activity.

    Overall, I would rate the audio transfer quality as "reasonably good". Dialogue was easy to understand at all times, there are no audio synchronisation issues and the background music swells to quite pleasing volumes at critical sections in the track.

    Even though there is no subwoofer track, there is quite a lot of low frequency information that gets channelled to both front and rear speakers at 67:44-68:45.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are a reasonable number of of extras of the disc, but most of them are textual apart from a retrospective video interview with Jack Thompson (somewhat ambitiously labelled as "exclusive interview & commentary" on the back cover).

Menu

    The menu contains a rendition of "Better Be Home Soon" sung by Kasey Chambers. The background audio is mastered at a very high level and you might want to turn the volume down before inserting the disc.

Notes-Press Gallery (4)

    This is a collection of stills providing the text for various reviews of the film written when the film was initially released:

Biographies-Cast & Crew

    This provides text-based biographies of the following (as a set of stills):

Production Notes

    This is a set of 5 stills containing a mini essay on the making of the film.

Awards

    This is two stills detailing awards garnered by the film.

Gallery-Photo (3:10)

    This is short video contain a montage of photos taken during the shooting of the film, accompanied by a full version of "Better Be Home Soon" sung by Kasey Chambers.

Interviews-Cast-Jack Thompson (31:29)

    This is a short video interview with Jack Thompson with rather extensive excerpts of the film thrown in to pad it to half and hour. I would have preferred if they just showed the entire interview as a 5 minute video.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    Information from a reader:

    "I have just viewed the R1 version of The Sum Of Us (and the R4 version for that matter) and have an update for your review. The R1 is a DVD-10 with 1.85:1 16x9 enhanced version on one side and a 1.33:1 open matte version on the other (I've compared a few shots to make sure it was open matte). They appear to be two totally different film-to-video transfers as the 1.85:1 has many more film artefacts, it's also softer. The 1.33:1 open matte is near perfect, in fact stunning. Clean, crisp and clear - I spotted two film artefacts throughout the entire feature and the grain is nearly non-existant - it literally looks brand new. The dot crawl from the R4 version is also gone in both R1 transfers. The audio is also correct - left is left and right is right - still Dolby 2.0 obviously. The only extra is a trailer."

    "With this in mind I'd say the R1 is a clear winner - despite how much I object to having to buy Australian movies overseas."

Summary

    The Sum of Us is a film well worth watching and features a young Russell Crowe together with Jack Thompson both giving superb performances in their roles in a story based on a stage play by David Stephens.

    The video transfer is pan & scan but watchable. The audio transfer is surround encoded and sounds quite good.

    Extras include a video interview with Jack Thompson and some text stills.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Saturday, April 27, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-626D, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
DVD's audio channels are reversed - John Frame REPLY POSTED
Region 1 release... - Dark Lord (Bio? We don't need no stinkin' bio!)