Lovers since their Melbourne schooldays, Tim Conigrave (Ryan Corr) and John Caleo (Craig Stott) survive the vicissitudes of coming out in a macho society and a brief separation while Tim studies in Sydney. But their world falls apart in the 1980s when they are both diagnosed HIV-positive.
Actor Tim Conigrave's posthumous memoir of his 15-year romance with John Caleo is one of Australia's most iconic works of gay literature. Given that theatre director Neil Armfield explored love, addiction and death with such intense sincerity in his feature debut Candy, it's surprising that he has made such a mediocre job of bringing this 1995 bestseller to the screen.
This lacks the dramatic and emotional depth to elicit the requisite response.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that Armfield and screenwriter Tommy Murphy tailored the text for the stage in 2006, as the dialogue retains an expository theatricality that is exacerbated by the sketchy characterisation and cumbersome structuring.
It hardly helps that Ryan Corr and Craig Short are far too old to play the teenage Conigrave and Caleo, with the consequence that there is little sense of jeopardy as they come out to their conservative parents and Catholic classmates. But Caleo is such a cipher as the bashfully sporty pretty boy adored by the gregarious and gleefully subversive Conigrave that there are few tangible signs of their great passion until Caleo's health begins to fail and Conigrave locks horns with his loving, but abashed father (Anthony LaPaglia).
Apart from the odd caption and pop song, Armfield does little to capture a period when homosexuality was still illegal and AIDS was regarded as punishment plague. Instead, he makes a half-hearted attempt to depict the rise of the gay rights movement and encapsulate the rampant homophobia of the times in a throwaway line about effeminate monkeys delivered with waspish disdain by Corr's drama teacher (a cameoing Geoffrey Rush, who distracts as much as Guy Pearce and Kerry Fox as Corr's parents). Corr works hard to make you care, but this lacks the dramatic and emotional depth to elicit the requisite response.
Sluggishly formulaic, this is a disappointingly superficial interpretation of an important book.