Thursday 31 December 2015

Holding The Man (2015) - Movie Review
On June 26th of this year, a legal decision shook the majority of the Western world when it was decided that same-sex marriage would be made legally recognized for the entirety of the United States. In the ensuing months, the debate for similar legislation here in Australia has constantly being brought up and shot back down again with equal vigour. It would eventually reach the point where, even without having officially solved anything, the matter would fall away from the public eye like so many other “important” issues of the past. Given how much of an impact this had on how the rest of the year would shape up, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up as we come to a close on what was a particularly interesting and eventful year. As such, we come to the last film in my list of releases that slipped by me the first time through. This is Holding The Man.

The plot: Timothy Conigrave (Ryan Corr) and John Caleo (Craig Stott) first met in high school. This would be the start of a 15-year relationship that would come under fire from the prejudices of their families, their friends and their country, but would persevere nevertheless. However, once both Tim and John are diagnosed with AIDS, it seems that there are some things that even their love can’t overcome.

This is an A-grade cast list who all do outstandingly in their roles. Corr, after being one of the few legitimately good parts of last year’s stinker The Water Diviner, is great as our lead, being made even cuter by how much chemistry he has with Stott. Through every bit of elation, frustration and figurative flagellation they go through, you see every ounce of that joy and pain in equal measure through their performances; Stott in particular is haunting in his portrayal of the later stages of his disease. Sarah Snook is competent but, in all honesty, falls short of the powerhouse duo at this film’s core; still, it’s good seeing her put her talents to a film that genuinely deserves them, unlike the other films she was in this year. Guy Pearce and Anthony LaPaglia, as Tim and John’s father respectively, show prejudice without feeling like the film is propagandising for the sake of its main couple. Pearce shows more fear for the legal ramifications of his son’s relationship, and while LaPaglia embodies the more traditional and religious objections at first, he eventually cools over to the idea as the film goes on through a very natural-feeling progression. Geoffrey Rush gets a very small part as Tim’s acting teacher, but damned if he doesn’t make the most of it by probably delivering some of the film’s most pointed and poignant dialogue.

Rather than serving as reasoning to discuss the homosexual climate in Australia, either during the setting of the film or in modern day, this film is about the relationship between Tim and John first and foremost. There aren’t any underpinned political leanings attached to it or a need to soapbox beyond the confines of the story; instead, it follows their emotional connection from their first encounter, to their diagnosis, to their confrontations with those less tolerant of their lives and finally to the heart-breaking ending. Tim and John show all possible ranges that a relationship would go through: It’s awkward, it’s giddy, it’s erotic, it’s heated, it’s tragic, but most importantly it’s real. It lives and breathes and hits right at the heart of what it was aiming for. That powerful of a loving connection is what ultimately makes some of the more downbeat elements of the film hit that much harder, particularly during the final reel: The pin-drop silence of death coupled with Tim only being recognised as John’s “friend” at the funeral is seriously close to Still Alice levels of soul-crushing.

All in all, this is a powerful piece of cinema. The acting is fantastic, particularly from Ryan Corr and Craig Stott, the writing shows true emotional love while keeping the LGBT politics to a comfortable level and not letting them overshadow the core relationship, and the music is classic tunes to carry the whole package along; I don’t think I’ll ever see a more suitable usage for Blue Oyster Cult in my life.

I would like to thank everyone who joined me at any point during this past year; it sure has been an interesting one. I’ll be taking a short break from reviewing for a while after this, although I will be posting some year-end lists over the next few days. The great work begins again.

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