Mike Mills poignant portrait of a father and son relationship inspired us to look back at how films from Chaplin to Beginners have handled this paternal subject.
The Sum of Us (1994)
In Beginners, Mike Mills explores the relationship between a gay father and his son, and so The Sum of Us––about a father and his gay son––can be seen as a companion piece of sorts to the film. Adapted from his own play by acclaimed Australian screenwriter David Stevens, The Sum of Us tells the story of Harry (Jack Thompson), a widower who lives with his twentysomething gay son, Jeff (Russell Crowe). While one might expect the film's narrative arc to be devoted to the difficult journey Harry takes in accepting his son's sexuality, in The Sum of Us Harry is in fact so comfortable with Jeff being gay that he is a little too direct about it sometimes. When Jeff comes home sweaty from working out, Harry asks him if he had sex on the way home. When Jeff brings home Greg (John Polson), as the three men sit on the sofa drinking beer, Harry jokily says “Up yer bum!” rather than the traditional “Bottom's up!” Stevens enjoys subverting our expectations: when Harry says to Jeff, in shocked tones, “You've done it with girls? You never told me!” Speaking about the genesis of the characters, Stevens––who himself is gay––says, “I know sort of where the dad came from. That wasn't my relationship with my father––my relationship with my father was exactly the reverse––but I have seen those relationships. When I was about 17, I was picked up in London by this beautiful Cockney boy and we went back to his place and 'did it.' I felt sleepy, and so he said, 'It's alright, you can stay.' I was drowsy in the morning, and the door burst open and his mum came in, tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Do you take sugar in your tea?' ”