Irony is one of those two-dollar words that people tend to confuse with coincidence. It means, literally, to express a thought or emotion by saying exactly the opposite of what is meant.
Saying, for example, “Now, that’s clever,” when someone utters or does something particularly stupid.
The central theme of the Australian film “The Sum of Us” is irony, both in terms of the film’s cast and in terms of its main plot point.
The film involves Harry (Jack Thompson) and Jeff Mitchell (Russell Crouse), a son and father who live together with the same kind of amiable feuding that marks the relationship of those long married.
Jeff hates it that Harry continually forgets to completely shut off the shower faucet. Harry hates it when Jeff, finished eating, pushes away his plate. Both rag on each other for these and other character flaws.
But - and here’s the heart of the film - they love each other fiercely in spite of these irritating habits. They may even love each other more because of them. And why is that? Because they don’t love each other any less for what many in society - especially Australian society - would see as their big flaws.
Being, of course, that Jeff is gay.
And Harry doesn’t mind.
This very notion, that being gay means being flawed, looms over “The Sum of Us.” But not in the way you might think. It is an issue precisely because Harry is so accepting of his only offspring.
“I’ve never been ashamed of Jeff,” Harry says matter-of-factly. “He’s my son.” How can you reject, he says, the product of your own seed?
Yet - and here’s the most intriguing part of the film - overtolerance can be a problem, too. For Harry, so good-hearted in his attentions, is as good at unknowingly breaking up Jeff’s liaisons as he is at encouraging them.
This, folks, is irony.
It wouldn’t do to reveal too much of the plot. Based on a stage play by David Stevens, the screenplay followed by co-directors Kevin Dowling and Geoff Burton is more conversation than action, more characterization than story development.
Suffice it to say that both father and son learn lessons about love, though not always happily - and seldom easily.
“The Sum of Us” is not without problems. It utilizes the cute technique of actors addressing the camera - a ploy that stylistically works better on stage than on screen. And for those looking for a tidy wrapping up of loose ends, well, that’s missing, too.
But whatever else is lacking, the film says worlds about the commonality of love. In flashback scenes involving Harry’s grandmother and her lover of 40 years, it dramatizes with heartwrenching clarity what Jeff characterizes as “the agonizing pain of it all.”
In the end, “The Sum of It All” works best in those scenes where father and son show their mutual love. Crouse, who recently starred opposite Sharon Stone as a gunfighter-turned-preacher in “The Quick and the Dead,” has one hospital scene that would melt a lead heart.
And Thompson? Well, he’s the closest thing that Australia has to a bona fide international movie star. From “Breaker Morant” to “The Man From Snowy River,” he has worn the mantle of Australian masculinity for over 20 years.
And yet this may represent his best work yet: A certified male presence reveling in the inherent goodness of his gay son.
As well as clever.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “The Sum of Us” *** Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas Credits: Directed by Kevin Dowling and Geoff Burton, starring Jack Thompson, Russell Crouse, John Polson and Deborah Kennedy Running time: 1:40 Rating: Not rated (but equivalent to a PG-13)