Holding the Man

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Holding the Man

Based on a classic piece of Australian memoir that’s become a touchstone for a generation of gay men (and Australians in general), director Neil Armfield’s adaptation had a lot to live up to. And live up to the source material it does; while it may not be quite as strong a movie as it could have been, it gets so much right that it feels churlish to complain about a few bum notes.
In the ’70s teenagers Tim (Ryan Corr) and John (Craig Stott) fell in love. Fellow students at an all-boys school – John was captain of the Aussie Rules team, Tim was a drama nerd – they kept their love secret (not very well), lived together after school, survived the disapproval of their parents and Tim heading to Sydney to sow his oats, only to both test HIV-positive in the early ’80s.
Many of the milestones here have been worn smooth by pop culture familiarity – homophobes lurk in the uni pub, Sydney is a frenzy of gay spas, Tim’s parents are shocked but gradually accepting, John’s father (Anthony LaPaglia) never gets there – but the film throws in enough telling detail (often in the form of ’80s-era ockerisms) to keep this from blanding out. Likewise, Geoffrey Rush’s cameo as a drama teacher who tells Tim not everything is about his sexuality is an important reminder that, while Tim himself is a strident activist, this is a film that makes room for it’s characters to be seen as people rather than icons.
It’s a shame then that John is something of a cypher and we focus on Tim during his “uni wanker” days, as it blunts the impact of the final tear-jerking scenes. But failing at being emotionally manipulative is hardly a serious flaw; this is the kind of Australian story our cinema should be telling more often.
Reviewed by Anthony Morris