Handsome Devil is cut from the same cloth as Sing Street and Dead Poet’s Society, but it also leaves a few things deliberately ambiguous. This is a pleasant, coming-of-age tale set in a private, all-boys boarding school in Ireland. The story ends on an encouraging and positive note where you should be yourself because it reminds us that “No one else can be you”.
This film is the second one from writer/director John Butler (The Stag) and it feels like one that has an autobiographical slant. It stars and is narrated by Ned (Fionn O’Shea) a kid with dyed red, bright Bowie-esque hair. Ned loves music, film and art but he is also bullied and treated like an outsider at his rugby-obsessed, posh school. It is unclear what year this film is set in because the title comes from a Smiths song, the soundtrack features Big Star and Prefab Sprout and there is a reference to modern life being rubbish, which is a nod to Blur.
Ned is taunted and labelled “gay” by his classmates even though it is not clear what his sexual orientation is. When a new student named Conor (a gorgeous, Nicholas Galitzine) starts at the school he is forced to share a room with no-friends Ned. The two boys are an unlikely pair because Conor is a star athlete and a huge asset to the school’s senior rugby team. The pair eventually look past their differences and become close friends by bonding over music thanks to the guidance of an inspirational English teacher who happens to be a closeted homosexual (Andrew Scott (Sherlock). In time Ned also realises that Conor is gay.
The school rugby team is coached by a bullish and homophobic man named Pascal (Moe Dunford). This horrible coach tries to indoctrinate the team by feeding them his bigoted views. But will the rugby-players accept Conor or will they side with their trainer? And will the bigots receive their come-uppance? This plot is pretty predictable and the film is ultimately quite warm and jovial.
Handsome Devil is a sweet, dramatic film that grapples with some serious issues that are important to young people- coming out, being bullied, growing up and finding your own identity amidst all the angst and turmoil of those teen years. The late, great John Hughes would be proud to see that one of his successors in the film industry has put together a sentimental high school story just as he used to do so well. While Handsome Devil is a nice and well-meaning tale it has a few things to learn from Messer Hughes, not least that it should fill in a few of the gaps and answer some of the questions it poses first and foremost.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Handsome Devil opens in select cinemas on May 25th.