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Holding the Man
4/5
dir Neil Armfield
scr Tommy Murphy
prd Kylie Du Fresne
with Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, Camilla Ah Kin, Sarah Snook, Geoffrey Rush, Luke Mullins, Tom Hobbs, Tim Kano, Kevin Kiernan-Molloy
release Aus 27.Aug.15, UK 3.Jun.16
15/Australia 2h07
Holding the Man
That '70s movie: Corr and Stott

lapaglia pearce fox
flare film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Holding the Man Based on a true story, this Australian drama is evocatively shot and edited, focussing on its engaging characters rather than plot or themes. Director Neil Armfield stirs in a sweet, complex mix of emotions as Tommy Murphy's script addresses important issues. But the 1970s-1990s setting makes it feel oddly past its time as it overstates the message. Even so, it's honest and powerfully moving.

At high school in 1976, theatre kid Tim (Corr) overcomes his nerves to ask rugby player John (Stott) to dinner. As good Catholic boys, they'll need to keep their romance a secret, but they're forced to confront their parents. Tim's (Pearce and Fox) believe it's just a phase; John's (LaPaglia and Ah Kin) turn threatening. So they run away together. Over the next 15 years, they become activists in the gay rights movement as their relationship goes through a series of highs and lows. And their biggest challenge comes when both test positive for Aids.

Armfield and Murphy (who previously adapted Tim Cosgrave's memoir for the stage) tell this story with layers of artistry, cleverly bringing each element of this couple's journey to vivid life. At the start, they evoke Romeo & Juliet with two boys from opposite worlds: theatre and sport. So it's powerfully moving to watch them come together, fall apart and find themselves unable to live without each other, especially when faced with a final tragedy.

Corr and Stott give engaging performances, overcoming sometimes silly make-up and hair to play these guys from 15 to 30. Their physicality together is intense, and Armfield directs the sex with unusual realism while making it clear that the story is about deep love rather than physical attraction. In the supporting cast, LaPaglia gets the meatiest role as the harshly disapproving dad. But everyone offers textures to the film, including Snook (as Tim's longtime pal) and Rush (as his theatre mentor).

Along with a knowing depiction of the highs and lows of a relationship over time, the film uses a terrific song score to trace the parallel history of gay culture in Australia. This nation still struggles with endemic bigotry that makes it difficult for gay teens to express their feelings. Frankly, this movie should have been made 20 years ago, when Tim's memoir was first published and Philadelphia was winning Oscars. Although the passing of time has allowed this happy, maddening and wrenchingly sad film to be much more truthful.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality, drugs 13.Mar.16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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