Review: Holding The Man

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The true story of two college boys falling in love in a time of hate, homophobia and HIV comes to life in Neil Armfield's very much '#lovewins' adaptation.

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Films about love – real love – can be tough. They can be tough to make, tough to get recognised, tough to achieve, and tough to endure. Holding The Man isn’t your usual ‘rom-com.’ No doubt it was tough to make, to get recognised, to achieve, and I can guarantee it was tough to endure.

It tells the fateful tale of two college boys who fall in love in 1972 and fall head and heart first into a fifteen-year relationship, with the roar of parental disapproval, homophobia and the tension of two very different dreams constantly on the heads of their horizons like gunfire, until the only thing love can’t solve tried to crush them.

The film, a film I predict will be somewhat – unfairly – underrated, boasts a whole host of new and unknown talent. Talent which must be taken advantage of soon. With a stand out lead performance by Ryan Corr, protagonist Timothy Conigrave’s character ends up seeming as believable as he should. Having been based on a true story, Holding The Man was taken from the true-life Conigrave’s memoir of the same name. Despite Conigrave’s character appearing a little wobbly in tone to begin with, it’s performances like Corr’s, as well as co-lead Craig Stott, who give the film its heartwarming, and heartbreaking, essence.

It’s difficult to step back from the inevitably tragic heart of the film to look at how much innocence of youth it runs through its veins. Every scene is encapsulated with a sort of rose-tinted filter, even those later, sadder scenes; coming out the other side is almost like re-emerging from a dream. The entire film, even when it reaches its adulthood, casts out some kind of wish to return to the beginning, wherever the beginning was.

It’s equally difficult to say that this doesn’t take a turn for the terribly cliché at, to be frank, a multitude of points. Rose-tinted filters get tiring eventually, and the beginning is a beginning in order to be left behind. The film keeps itself in its own little bubble; perhaps it would have been better to embrace expansion.

Whilst the film boasts a whole heap of scenes of the sexual variety (heads up, kids – don’t treat your parents to the cinema for this one), almost to the point of exhaustion, there’s no doubt that Holding The Man does revel in its honesty about relationships, in every aspect. There’s never any reason to believe each sex scene was chucked in to boost viewings, and each one reveals more and more about one character or another. Still, sex takes up a good portion of the film’s 128-minute run time and I can’t help but wonder if it would have classified for a feature length at all if those scenes were lost.

Holding The Man recaptures something of nostalgia that none of us could ever know – not really anyway. It makes us mourn, cheer, weep; the whole bunch. Whilst levelling on the average side in terms of originality in modern cinema, it remains significant; poignant in its every element. A subtle flavour of humour runs its way through its entirety, transitioning the film into a space resembling clever light-heartedness, at least for the first hour. For the film’s final portion, Holding The Man leaks clichéd undertones and saddening twists, though never verging into a place of tediousness. Still, it reeks of significance; significance which should let the film be achieved, recognised, endured as an honest portrayal of falling, being and being taken from love.

Holding The Man (2015), directed by Neil Armfield, is distributed in the UK by Peccadillo Pictures. Certificate TBC. 

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Third year Film and English student living in D.C., self-proclaimed go-to Edge expert on Cloverfield, Fall Out Boy, and Jake Gyllenhaal. Loves mostly those three things.

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