Handsome Devil is a LGBT coming-of-age story that has its share of touching moments and laughs.
Following the journey of two boys finding their identity in a testosterone overloaded all-boys boarding school in Ireland, the film critiques homophobia and conformism. With a message that speaks to all audiences and scenes that are not far from the reality of some of Sydney’s all-boys schools, Handsome Devil was a good watch. Its feel-good message was enough to look past the numerous clichés and predictable ending.
The film begins with Ned (Fionn O’Shea), a quiet and eccentric teenager who doesn’t conform to the crowd in his rugby-mad boarding school. From a combination of ignorant teachers, Ned’s bright red hair, the David Bowie lyrics he hangs up in his room and his “loner” status, Ned becomes the target of homophobic slurs and bullying. Hating school and wanting to run away, this all changes when a transfer student (Nicholas Galitzine), a talented athlete who left his old school due to fighting, becomes his roommate and the two become close friends.
John Butler, the director of the film, stated that he hoped Handsome Devil would improve discourse on the role of young men’s place in Irish society. Yet with one-dimensional antagonists– the rugby coach who is held back by hate and Weasel, a 16-year old boy who is Ned’s primary tormentor, Butler does not provide the depth of discussion that I would have hoped. He does however, depict the male “machismo” culture that, at times, exacerbates homophobia.
Classifying the film as a comedy-drama Butler told RTE Entertainment “There was no motive for telling it beyond wanting to get it out of me! It’s – emotionally, at least – autobiographical, in that I grew up gay and loving sports and found it hard to reconcile the two. Writing is cheaper than therapy.” This sense of authenticity translates onto the screen, with some scenes being so recognisable it was uncanny (especially that end rugby game). The actors themselves were impressive, especially Andrew Scott, who plays a gay English teacher who is held back by the same fear that he tells his students not to live by – finding one’s own voice and not being afraid to not conform.
Yet the film’s share of clichés let down the quality of its message– how many inspirational English teacher types, who end up learning more from their students, are there going to be? Moreover, the end was fairly predictable and sugar coated the issue to the extent that it let down what had been built up through the course of the film. I wish Butler would have surprised us and possibly provided an alternate ending.
Handsome Devil opens nationally on the 25 May 2017.