Handsome Devil is John Butler’s latest drama featuring marginal characters struggling to figure out and accept their identity. The movie is categorised as a comedy drama, but unfortunately it does not quite capture the lightheartedness of the 80s American high school classics. The film dives deep into adolescent clichés such as standing up to bullies, forbidden love, self-discovery and pools of conflicting emotions – without a girl in sight – but it makes the mistake of taking itself and its pubescent characters a little bit too seriously.
Tensions run high in a school full of testosterone and rough sports. The insult “gay” is bandied about like candy, and our narrator and main man Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is the first to stand accused. Ned is a fiercely independent teen who keeps to himself until he is forced to share a room with an athletic newcomer from another school, Conor (Nicholas Galitzine). Conor is the best rugby player the school has seen in a long time and he decides to befriend the loser – schoolwide drama ensues.
This coming-of-age picture makes a point to state the moral of the story near the end, in case the audience didn’t quite get it: be yourself. In spite of the cheesy narration, the classic quirky teacher (Andrew Scott) who mentors the two outcasts in his own deeply personal way, and the oftentimes rather facile dialogue, the film keeps up a steady pace and an irresistible cast will keep female bums in their seats.
Butler is very aware of deep-seated issues in conservative Ireland such as the potential of high schools to breed thugs through rugby warfare, and though his idea of an unlikely friendship between a loner and a jock is far from unique, he takes it that one heart-wrenching step further with titillating will-they-won’t-they scenes as well as introducing a scruffy antagonist in the form of the school’s jolly looking but decidedly brutish and emotional rugby coach (Moe Dunford), who is the antithesis, of course, of their Robin Williams-esque English teacher.
All in all, the story is easy and pleasant to follow, provides many a goosebump and clarifies some rules of rugby for the uninitiated. The camera and editing work are clear and evocative, such as the two unwilling roommates bonding for the first time through the cracks in the “Berlin wall” they built between them. There is a little bit too much happening in the form of inspirational montages, but they are at least set to a great soundtrack. Just remember, if you spend your whole life being someone else, who’s going to be you?
Handsome Devil is released nationwide on 28th April 2017.
Watch the trailer for Handsome Devil here: