›› Handsome Devil ‹‹

a film by John Butler.

2016 | 95 mins | Ireland.

a life-affirming work on the true value of friendship.

Dave says:

This uplifting gem of a film follows the life of Ned Roche (Fionn O'Shea); a talented youth who's reluctantly made to attend boarding school when his father Donal (Ardal O'Hanlon) heads off to Dubai, along with his newfound step-mother. The outsider in a school where rugby is treated more like a religion than part of the curriculum, Ned's life is set to change for the worse when he finds himself forced to share his room with ace rugby player Conor (Nicholas Galitzine); a youth more than happy to let his fists do the talking. Opposites in every sense, life for Ned is all but hell, that is until the arrival of a replacement English teacher in the form of Mr Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott); an inspirational figure who's determined to make his pupils realize their full potential. And so it is that two strangers come to form the most unlikely of friendships, bonding together over mutual interests in music. Yet it's a friendship that's set to be tested to breaking point when star player Conor, namely the student who could tip the balance of the school finally winning the annual rugby contest finds that his close friend, is not the friend he thought he was. Only how do you go back and change something you wish you had never said?

Complete with the pertinent line: "when you spend your whole life being someone else - who's gonna be you?", this perceptive coming out work from writer and director John Butler of The Stag note is laced with such a stellar Irish cast that it's a wonder that the dialogue wasn't spoken in its mother tongue. As expected, Andrew Scott of Pride fame shines in the role of a maverick English teacher that cannot help but remind you of Robin Williams' brilliant portrayal of John Keating in the 1989 Peter Weir classic Dead Poets Society. Yet equally to be found delivering solid support are Moe Dunford as the homophobic rugby coach of the piece, alongside Michael McElhatton as a Head Teacher far more aware of just what's going on, than anyone could have imagined.

Yet at heart, this feature revolves around the on-screen chemistry between its leads and here both excel in vastly differing roles, with Galitzine seemingly effortlessly portraying star athlete Conor, only to be troubled by inner demons that he seems unable to deal with. Unlike Ned, wonderfully played by O'Shea, who exorcised his demons long ago, only to now face being relentlessly bullied just for being - himself. That his endless voice-overs could become irksome, but do not, is down to the engaging screenplay that brilliantly juxtaposes a series of light-hearted moments, with some deeply poignant scenes.

True and to some, this could well be viewed as the Irish Get Real; well if that be the case, then it's in good company, given there's no denying the heartfelt to thy ownself, be true message that resonates throughout both films. Above all however, this is the story of an odd couple friendship that is so close, that neither is prepared to lose the friend they value so dear. And whilst there's a few negatives in the mix; indeed from a gay perspective there's one obvious missing-in-action moment, this nevertheless remains an utter joy from start to finish and in particular the pivotal sequence that changes everything in the narrative path thereafter and it's beautifully played. Frankly, there's a lot to like here, being a life-affirming work on the true value of friendship and a pure delight to watch. Need more be said?

›› check out the Official Trailer on YouTube.
›› posted: Friday, 1st January, 2021.

Gay Visibility - overt. 
Nudity - from the waist up. 
Overall - file under ... 4 stars. 

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