REVIEW: Handsome Devil (2017)

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2017, Breaking Glass Pictures/Treasure Entertainment/Bord Scannán na hÉireann/the Irish Film Board/TFE

Director:
John Butler
Producers:
Rebecca Flanagan
Robert Walpole
Writer:
John Butler
Cinematography:
Cathal Watters
Editing:
John O’Connor

Cast:
Fionn O’Shea (Ned Roche)
Nicholas Galitzine (Conor Masters)
Andrew Scott (Dan Sherry)
Moe Dunford (Coach Pascal)
Michael McElhatton (Headmaster Walter Curly)
Ruairi O’Connor (Weasel)
Mark Lavery (Wallace)
Jay Duffy (Victor)
Jamie Hallahan (Spainer)
Amy Huberman (Nathalie Roche)
Ardal O’Hanlon (Dan Roche)

An outcast, a transfer rugby player, and a new English professor all look for acceptance in this Irish coming-of-age tale from filmmaker John Butler.

Ned Roche is a sixteen-year old teen whose father and stepmother send him to a boarding school with a reputation for the sport of rugby. However, Ned is gay and this instantly makes him an outcast amongst his classmates. Weasel is the lead bully and rugby player who makes Ned miserable as much as possible. Ned at first feels a sense of relief when he is given his own room. However, when a transfer student, Conor Masters, arrives at the school and is a known rugby player, Ned is unhappy when Conor becomes his roommate.

At first, Ned and Conor do not get along. However, after learning of Ned’s habit of using lyrics of obscure songs to pose as essays, which angers new English professor Dan Sherry, Conor is impressed. Ned soon learns he and Conor have more in common than they expected. The two form a bond and even go as far as starting a two-person band. However, when rugby coach Pascal gets wind of their new bond, the rugby obsessed coach as well as the other players see Ned as a threat and decide to go to great lengths to break this new bond between an elite and an outcast.

From writer-director John Butler comes a film that brings stereotypes yet breaks from the norm when it comes to certain subjects and meshes it with perhaps a dose of the 1999 film Varsity Blues in terms of its theme of obsession of a sport. The film does have a central theme of acceptance as it pertains to not only two of the students but in some aspect, the English professor having to feel his own brand of acceptance when some of the school administrators do not agree with his methods, notably when he supports the bond between central characters Ned and Conor.

Fionn O’Shea is great to watch as Ned, who not only is the outcast, but our film’s narrator. Because he is different let alone his lack of even liking rugby, he is seen as the loner. What’s worse is that lead bully Weasel uses all negative stereotypes against LGBTQ people against Ned and it is as if Ned has to constantly tell Weasel and others that stereotypes not only not phase him but he could care less about what his tormentors think of him.

Nicholas Galitzine is great as the complement to Ned, transfer rugby player Conor, who finds the love of his sport as a means of escape from his personal issues. Conor is known to have a violent past, which resulted in his transfer. As noted by co-star Andrew Scott’s professor, Ned seems to have a “persecution complex” against the elite until he learns that he and Conor’s love of music amongst other things truly form a bond between the two. However, what many may expect will be quite shocked to learn that this breaks the norm as they become platonic friends, which draw the ire of the obsessed rugby coach and the headmaster, who only care about getting the team into the finals of a current tournament.

Andrew Scott’s Professor Sherry acts merely as a bridge not only between Ned and Conor, but in the midst of everything, he is a bridge between the students and the school administrators. Sherry feels like the students are not whom they want to be, but what they are expected to be in terms of the school. Despite resistance, especially from the rugby-obsessed coach, who is perhaps the nuttiest coach since Jon Voight’s football-obsessed Bud Kilmer in Varsity Blues, Sherry proves himself to be a more open-minded individual who gets through not only to Ned and Conor, but someone very surprising in the start of the third act.

In the end, Handsome Devil is a great Irish coming-of-age film that may delve in negative stereotypes from the tormentors, but this is truly a film about acceptance between the most unlikeliest of buddies in a sport-obsessed boarding school.

WFG RATING: A-

Breaking Glass Pictures will be releasing the film in select theaters and on VOD on June 2.

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