A gay love story that’s also just a great love story, full stop? Yay. Without ever denying the particular challenges that faced gay couples in macho, conservative Australia in the 1970s and 80s, and without ignoring the particular horrors of the AIDS epidemic that ravaged an entire generation of young men, Holding the Man manages to elevate the romance of Tim (Ryan Corr: The Water Diviner) and John (Craig Stott) to the universal in a way that few movies about LGBT relationships have yet to do. Director Neil Armfield (Candy), fortified by spirited, committed performances by Corr and Stott, renders this couple’s bond as a wholly, fully, no-qualifiers human story about passion and connection that anyone can identify with. Based on the bestselling memoir written by Timothy Conigrave — which has also been the basis of a beloved stage play — and told with a lovely romantic sweep, this is a tale of two men who fell in love as teens in 1976 at a Melbourne boys’ Catholic school, found support and understanding from unlikely quarters, had to fight for the same from others, and who, through it all, clung steadfast to each other simply because they had no choice: they were meant to be together. The film is not at all coy about how physically and psychologically devastating AIDS was on both personal and cultural levels in the era before HIV became a manageable condition, a situation that Tim, a writer and actor, explores here through his art. Armfield never gives in to clichéd sentiment, and what is left is often shocking, and full of raw, honest emotion… yet the men’s gentle, resilient sense of humor shines through as well. The marvelous cast also features Anthony LaPaglia (Happy Feet Two), Kerry Fox (The Dressmaker), Guy Pearce (Results), Geoffrey Rush (Gods of Egypt), and the increasingly indispensable Sarah Snook (Oddball and the Penguins), but it’s Stott and Corr who make this work, drawing us inexorably into Tim and John’s little circle of intimacy and understanding. Corr in particular is simply astonishing: if you’re not in love with Tim yourself almost instantly upon meeting him, you might be dead.