Glasgow Film Festival Review: ‘Handsome Devil’ (2016)

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Previewing at the Glasgow Film Festival, ‘Handsome Devil‘ is the coming of age tale of Ned (Fionn O’Shea), a sixteen year old at an all boys boarding school. At the start of the film he is given ninety minutes to write an essay. Through this – his essay and narration via voice over – Ned tells us about the homophobic bullying he experiences at school, and how he forms an unlikely friendship with new pupil and accomplished ruby player Conor (Nicholas Galitzine)

Ned looks to English teacher Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott, ‘Pride’) for inspiration. Andrew Scott is by far the best element of this film. His performance is intelligent and nuanced. The dialogue is middling, and Scott makes the most of it. There are some moments of humour, and an interesting unapologetic honesty delivered with wit from our lead Fionn O’Shea. Elsewhere the narrative progression is slow given that from the start we are set a hour and half deadline for the complete story of the film.

There are real moments of charm and levity. ‘Handsome Devil‘ has a big heart, for sure. The themes are also important; ultimately I’m interested in films offering hope to LGBT young people. This is pushed centre-stage in this feature, which is positive. However, I’d say the one real problem the film is marred by is the overuse of binary opposition.

The presence of the hyper-masculine characters is stilted; the ruby coach Pascal, alongside fellow team mates, and the stern headmaster figure Walter. It is interesting that the identities are being presented in film, yet in this particular case there aren’t many changing identities or narrative consequences to make any real impact.

The camera is usually positioned in a wide angle to show Ned and his surroundings. We quite literally get the full picture as we are introduced to his parents, his dorm room, his classroom, et al . This method of storytelling is useful as we understand the events as understood by Ned. Too often, though, the films soundtrack is relied on to stitch together scenes or montages. Aside from that ‘Handsome Devil’ is funny and light-hearted. The lead is likeable yet rebellious.

Inevitably, the film suggests only a number of directions to go in, so it’s conclusion won’t be much of a surprise to you. It is, however, a strong-minded, charming tale that is worth your time. It shares some qualities with feel-good counterparts ‘Pride’ and ‘The Way He Looks’. The narrative drive of the film is the lead character. Ned’s journey through the film is relatable and sincere.

[rating=3] | Zach Roddis

Drama | Ireland, 2016 | 15 | 15th February 2017 (UK) | Glasgow Film Festival | European Premiere | Dir.John Butler | Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Moe Dunford, Andrew Scott