‘Holding the Man’ follows a fairly linear narrative, telling the story of Timothy, a gay man with a Catholic upbringing. At high school he falls in love with John, who is on the football team. Initially there is a subtle reference to the “otherness” of their struggling romance, Tim playing the role of Paris in his school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. This echoes throughout the rest of the film – Tim being interested in the arts, John more in to sport, Tim is more political, and more comfortable around sex in spite of his religious family. Both sets of parents are uncomfortable with homosexuality, as are some other groups in the film.
We get relief from the harshness of the subject matter (forbidden love, religious right, HIV status) through the rebelliousness of Ryan Corr as Tim, his performance is terrific. The soundtrack gives a similar result; early on we see a scene in which Tim is gazing at John from the side of the football field as a T Rex song plays. We are immediately encouraged to empathise with these characters.
It is obvious that Director Neil Armfield has a background in theatre. The characterisation has clarity, whilst the narrative might suffer from it’s original forms, the title being adapted from book to stage, and then to the screen. Though the narrative is framed nicely, the year appearing on screen acting as a chapter heading, we are sometimes unaware of the motivations of each character. The scenes develop but without enough of a natural sense of fluidity.
This isn’t helped by a supporting cast whose performances are often stilted. This is most apparent with John’s Father (Anthony Lapaglia) whose fear of his sons identity seems forced – his angers and frustrations are unfortunately not fully realised on screen. The feature is in fact saved by our two leads Tim (Corr) and John (Craig Stott) who both appear naturalistic in film set some years ago. Other performers may be more familiar to you – Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, and a brief scene with Geoffrey Rush. These performances aren’t given much screen time, so are less developed.
The film is often lit interestingly – harsh blues outside as Tim waits outside for John, who is inside a more warm domestic setting. The camera is sometimes a little off. Handheld camera (including some on the above water work by the beach), and tracking shots (of the characters riding bicycles) is good in theory but is often shaky and not used to it’s full potential.
At the heart of it, this is a poignant romance film about a male same sex relationship set in a time when public attitudes weren’t as progressive as they are today. It’s merits are easily dependant on the narrative and subject matter. The other elements (the Romeo and Juliet parallels, the mostly unexplored friendship between Tim and his other high school friends, the resentment of the father character) all show a lot of potential. The film is largely divided into two parts. During production there was a seven week filming hiatus. What happens in the latter half is moving. Only, it would have been made stronger still if the first half was a little more cohesive.
‘Holding the Man’ will be in UK cinemas on 3rd June 2016.
[rating=3] | Zach Roddis
Drama, LGBT | Australia, 2015 | 15 | Peccadillo Pictures | 3rd June 2016 (UK) | Dir.Neil Armfield | Ryan Corr, Craig Stott, Geoffrey Rush, Kerry Fox, Camilla Ah Kin , Sarah Snook, Guy Pearce,