Too much of everything
Great Film overall
This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. You have to go and see this on the big screen.
One of the film's great tricks is that, for a time, you think it will go down a rabbit hole of unrealistic glorification.
Had no expectations and was deeply moved by the extraordinary play of the leading actors.
Note: this review has some very light and general spoilers that probably won't be much news to those who know enough about the story to be reading about it here.An extremely well intended adaptation of Timothy Conigave's memoir of the great love of life set in Australia in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. The film did make me cry. And it was nice to see a gay love story where both the deep romance and intense sexuality of these two men were treated as utterly normal by the film -- if not by the society the two men were living in at the time. I also appreciate the way it pulled no punches on showing the devastating physical effects of AIDS in the days where treatment options were pathetically limited and ineffective. So there is much going for it. But, frustratingly, some of that good stuff is off-set with cinematic miss-steps, at least to my eyes: E.g. Casting Aussie stars Guy Pearce, Kerry Fox, and Geoffrey Rush in cameos so small that their presence seems more weird and distracting than involving (Anthony LaPaglia also takes a small role, but one with enough meat that at least his presence seems to make sense). Overuse of period songs: To a point this device worked well, but soon it started to feel like every other scene had a familiar period pop song as score – most a little too on-the-nose in their lyrics or meaning. This is a particular flaw at the very end of the film, when the crashing in of an up-tempo pop song short-circuits a moment of great emotional intensity I would have liked to have been able to sit with and emotionally experience. And while it's great that a gay love story can now feel little different than a straight one in style, that's maybe not great when that style sometimes feels as familiar and mainstream as any slightly bland Hollywood movie. Add to that, some of the worst age make up I can remember seeing in a long time (trying desperately to make two very adult looking actors come off as teenagers at the start of the story), and a tendency to skip too quickly over the character elements of these two men that weren't directly about their relationship -- so that even after over 2 hours I felt frustrated that I didn't know more about these two as individuals -- which would have given added shape to the story of how their lives joined into one. A worthwhile and admirable film, but one that I couldn't quite get myself to love, no matter how much I wanted to.
I had the rare opportunity to finish reading this extraordinary book for the first time and see the film in the same day. I have to say, the film left me rather disappointed for a variety of reasons. As with all book to film adaptations, there are always difficult choices to be made, scenes to leave out, areas on which to focus at the expense of others. The nature of the the film, the jumping around of time periods rather than being a linear edit seemed to serve very little purpose, if any film would have been more emotionally resonant as a linear story, this is it. The wonder of the book is how naturally it plays, the love story is emotionally resonant because it seems so familiar.There is no buildup to that love story here in the film, we know so little of the characters (who, let's be honest, as many people have already stated are played by actors too old to be convincing or able to convey the same sense of discovery and adventure that the book describes)that the love story falls flat. The actors have some wonderful scenes, but the dialogue is far too forced and stage-like at times to hit home. A much simpler approach would have had so much more emotional impact. The unique and incredible love story, and the particular setting of 70s/ 80s Australia should have been the main focus, more time spent focused on the early years could have made the events of the later years so much more impactful. A lot of it felt almost movie of the week type stuff, generic and anonymous. There are obviously very difficult choices to be made by a director and writer in adapting any book, let alone a memoir so incredibly intimate and honest, but so many times in the film I found myself frustrated, wondering "Why didn't they spend so more time on THAT?" A lot of the characters seem like afterthoughts, even the two main characters at times unfortunately.I finished the book with tears running down my face, and finished the film with a sense of frustration and disappointment. Judging from other reviews on here, it seems that the movie had made an emotional impact on many, and that is wonderful. I was very much hoping to feel the same. I was moved by some parts, but left largely cold by the experience. At least the book is there to read again(and again).
I'll say from the outset as a gay male I wanted this to be great and elements of it were, so I'm not coming from a perspective of critical indifference. I read the book when it came out and so knew what I was in for, all in all I must say the film was pretty faithful to it and didn't shy away from its most confronting or gruelling contents. I wondered beforehand whether it would or not and was impressed that it dealt with all the heaviest stuff head on, and did so well. The movie also gave me insights that my imagining as I read the book didn't, which I found illuminating and very interesting. I am from Melbourne, Australia where most of this story happened, so am familiar with its locales and some of them are of personal significance to me, so there is some overlap. There were many very strong elements in this film and as with Woody Allen's 'Irrational Man', it should have been great. The historical, social and cultural details of the mise- en-scene, costume, dialogue and even inflection were incredibly accurate, having lived through them myself, and lovingly, painstakingly recreated. Strong performances abounded, with standouts being Craig Stott who gave an incredible performance as John Caleo on par with Meryl Streep only less gimmicky, and that of the actress who played his mother, who gave a beautiful, nuanced performance. The film was for the most part very watchable, with warmth, drama and humour. Its filmmaking basics were very strong. Unfortunately, director Neil Armfield and/or producers went for an overlay of somewhat cheesy, narrated-by-crowd- pleasers pop songs that spelt out the emotions episodically and in a too obvious, simplistic way sometimes. Some of these songs and moments worked and were very touching, but evidently they were aiming for the youth market and it didn't work for me. Second of all, the film is of a genre satirised on Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell as 'Reflecting Your Comfortable Middle Class Life Back To You And Validating It', Micallef's alternate title for such Aussie schlock as 'Packed To The Rafters', from whence came Ryan Corr who played Tim Conigrave, perhaps tellingly. I would have loved that kind of thing in my twenties, not knowing any better, but now it makes me want to reach for a bucket. And it's not cynical, bitter old age, it makes for dramatically inferior melodrama in my opinion. These two in my view major flaws really marred 'Holding The Man' for me and while professional filmmaking abounded and there were many fine elements, sadly these two errors almost dragged it down into prime time soap opera fare at times, 'Home and Away'. The excellent TV series 'Puberty Blues' which covered the 70's in a similar fashion managed to avoid such pitfalls, was a serious drama and a lot of fun, and managed to achieve art in my opinion. I have a reverent amount of respect for the blood, sweat and tears that go into a movie production, especially when there are some fine elements and great performances, so I don't like to criticise, but due to these elements I could only give it this lower rating.