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Holding the Man tells a love story with an undeniable sense of warmth, but it never reaches the dramatic heights it’s aspiring to. Based on the 1995 memoir of the same name by Timothy Conigrave, Holding the Man is the story of Tim (Ryan Corr) and John (Craig Stott), who fell in love when they were teenagers in 1976. The movie chronicles their 15 year relationship, as they face discrimination, persecution and the horrors of AIDS.
Corr and Stott have amazing chemistry together, probably due to the fact that they are a couple in real life. You instantly buy into their relationship and the genuine affection and care they have for one another.
Holding the Man starts off on the wrong foot though, by casting them to play the leads in their high-school years. While both Corr and Stott are young actors in their mid-to-late twenties, they absolutely do not look like high-school students. It is painfully distracting, especially considering a lot of their lines echo a kind of youthful innocence that just sounds corny when delivered by adults.
Their fledgling romance in those early years consists mainly of passing notes in class, shy telephone conversations and Tim awkwardly asking John to come see him play a minor role in their high-school production of Romeo and Juliet. Whether it’s true to reality or not, it looks more than a little ridiculous when done by two grown men (pun not intended).
After spending some time in their formative years, the movie jumps ahead and spends most of its time in the 1980s, as Tim and John struggle to maintain their relationship, while the onset of the AIDS crisis looms over them and the gay community as a whole.
From a historical point of view, it was fascinated to see what the Australian LGBT community was like during the 1980s, as Holding the Man explores cruising and polyamorous relationships, as well as homophobic tensions and prejudices.
The problem with Holding the Man is it’s a story you can believe in but cannot connect to. The second half of the movie in particular highlights how horribly AIDS can ravage a person, but while I certainly never doubted what I was seeing – it was not inappropriate, manipulative or anything of the sort – I just could not connect emotionally with it.
Holding the Man works best on a very different emotional register. Scenes in which Tim and John were together, either goofing around or caressing each other were touching. There was a warmth to those moments between the characters that simply radiated from the screen. Anything where the dramatic stakes were raised higher, however, felt oddly detached. A supposedly powerful moment where John finally confronts his father over the latter’s homophobia felt hollow. Yet when John is angry at Tim for flirting with another guy, it works. Both are understandable, but for whatever reason, the smaller, more intimate moments had much more of an impact than the supposed truly dramatic scenes.
Holding the Man as a film-going experience was underwhelming. It has heart, and the performances to back it up, but it just cannot quite deliver the high emotional register it’s after in a lot of its key scenes. It’s not a bad movie, but it does not fully live up to the potential of the truly moving story it wants to tell.