Holding the Man
Directed by Neil Armfield
In the 1970s, a young Australian boy, Timothy, finds himself confused. He falls for the captain of the football team. What follows shows all aspects of a relationship, regardless of gender or sexual preference. Conflict, temptation, and a huge burden which will affect every aspect of their lives.
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★★★★½ review by Luke Kane on Letterboxd
Movies are meant to prod us in our sensitive areas. It's a part of what makes cinema a worthy medium. I'm certain that Holding the Man will come as a gut-punch to many gay men, as it did me. Based on Timothy Conigrave's 1995 autobiographical novel, it traces the relationship of two university students who fall in love amidst the socially turbulent seventies and through to the AIDS crisis that erupted in the eighties. It's a romantic drama punctuated by terrific performances and a lucid screenplay. Trendy politics notwithstanding, the film uses flash backs/forwards to remain subjective and personal. There are no montages to capture the social climate, no sobering statistics and no emphasis on anything too forensic or analytical. It never asks you to see Tim or John as 'one of a million men', but by the time both start to get sick, the thought might occur to you.
It would be easy to say that this movie could've been about a man and a woman, one of whom has cancer, and argue that it would've been just as effective, that it just so happens the two characters are men. Certainly it's better than the influx of odiously sentimental slush Hollywood has been releasing that fit this mould. Holding the Man does occasionally turn gooey, but most of the time the emotion comes out of the appealing performances. But the gay subtext can't be as easily dismissed as that. The prejudices and cruel nature of HIV transmission are intrinsically linked to the story. The muddy waters complicate each character's view of the other and influences their behaviour. The first conflict, which involves the school and then John's family, is about liberation. The second conflict, which involves the virus, is about acceptance and, ultimately, loss. It isn't just a gay-themed movie. It is particular to a community. But it's also a human story about how we (as in all of us) react to prejudice, guilt and grief.
Ryan Corr is green-eyed and sure-footed as the young Tim, but after a few years and some curveballs he grows more introspective and alert to life's fundamental sadness. Corr himself has the sharp, clear features of an athletic face and a lean physique. He plays the character as gay, but there are no tacked-on mannerisms or 'actory' tricks employed to convince us. Perhaps this movie will pave his way to Hollywood - he's easily as charismatic an actor as Ryan Gosling.
Craig Stott as John is a gentler, less assuming presence. His upbringing in a painfully conservative home has a lasting effect on his perspective. Of the two men John loses out more often than Tim. Because the film is from Tim's perspective, and because Tim loves John permanently and at once, John becomes the film's muse. What strikes us about John is the absence of a cruel streak. Stott has handsome, sharp features offset by warm eyes which peer out unobtrusively behind dark lashes. He becomes the film's anchor, the constant upon which Tim clutches and rails against, and (having only just walked out of the cinema) he is the one that haunts us after the movie has finished.
★★★★½ review by Chris 🔮 on Letterboxd
"Then he walked in... The boy with the amazing eyelashes. John Caleo was in my class"
guess who's in a lot of pain!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! it's me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
★★★★ review by Dan Pendleton on Letterboxd
I was unfamiliar with the true story of Timothy Conigrave’s relationship with John Caleo but, after seeing several positive reviews for this film on Letterboxd, I knew it was something I wanted to check out. Thanks to Liverpool Pride and POUTfest LGBT Film Tour, I finally got that opportunity.
Unfortunately, I thought this film started off quite poorly. As great as Ryan Corr’s and Craig Stott’s performances are later on, they play the least convincing teenagers in cinematic history! The blossoming relationship between the two characters seems very rushed and it is very awkward to watch Tim’s obvious advances on someone who initially doesn’t seem gay or interested. It was verging on grooming. There are a few humorous moments in the opening half an hour but not much to keep me interested.
However, just when I thought I knew where this film was heading, it jumps to 1985 and there is a sudden shift in tone that completely knocked me like a punch to the gut. The film becomes very difficult to watch and the audience feels like they are experiencing this unexpected life-changing revelation alongside the characters.
There is a moment after this revelation when Tim Conigrave becomes so unlikable as he thinks back to all the events that lead up to this terrible moment. I commend Tim for his honesty throughout his memoir but I was worried that this film was going to lose me completely. Thankfully, Tim manages to redeem himself and his relationship and, from this point, the film goes from strength to strength.
It is truly beautiful yet tragic watching these two people, who clearly love each other so very much, go through the horrifying effects of the AIDs virus whilst also struggling with the acceptance of their families. It is in these moments, when they’re not trying to play characters clearly much younger than they really are, that both Corr and Stott shine. I truly believe in their relationship, their love and their anguish and it is not an easy watch. Stott’s performance during the later stages of the virus is, quite possibly, the most convincing portrayal of the AIDs virus I have seen on screen. It is truly heartbreaking!
Tim Conigrave’s memoir is totally honest, tragic but also joyful and full of love. Despite the terrible effects of the AIDs virus, there are hints of hope: hope for love and hope for acceptance. There is no doubt that Tim and John loved each other and it is wonderful to see their relationship develop from the exciting beginnings, the rocky middle, and the tragic moment that made their bond stronger than ever. They were there for each other every step of the way.
This film had a clear impact on me. All I wanted to do once the end credits rolled was rush home as fast as I could and hug my partner tightly and never let him go. This is a great film that touched me on so many levels. Thank you Tim for sharing your memoirs with the world and I’m sure, wherever you and John are now, you’re spending eternity pain free and happy together.
★★★½ review by kanja on Letterboxd
all offence but when will white gays stop oppressing me by making me sad through their movies
★★★★½ review by Keegs 🌈 on Letterboxd
"I once met this beautiful boy called John, the boy with the beautiful eyelashes."
Magnificently acted by leads Ryan Corr and Craig Stott, Holding the Man is a rare Australian film because it's so packed full of talent, care and emotion, as opposed to such recent Aussie 'classics' as Savages Crossing.
The film tells a very genuine and heartfelt story of two schoolmates who fall in love, and the struggles they go through over the span of the 70's and 80's. I can't stress how great Ryan Corr is in particular, making you both hate and love his every ill decision, understanding the reasoning behind everything he does.
It's well worth a look, and will leave you with a bittersweet feeling, a couple of tears, and the urge to hug. Great stuff.
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