An unlikely yet authentic bond develops between two teenage boys at an Irish boarding school, in this charming, rugby-centric dramedy from talented Irish writer-director John Butler.
Sixteen-year-old Ned, with his spiky dyed red hair and ambiguous sexuality, is the music-geek outcast more smitten with David Bowie than with kicking balls around the pitch. Given his reluctance to attend the school and his frequent skirmishes with the resident jock bully, Ned goes to great lengths to distance himself from his athletic new roommate, the handsome Conor, who is struggling to reconcile his own conflicting interests.
The film has buoyant comic flair but doesn’t shrink from tackling homophobia amid a few refreshing dramatic detours. Handsome Devil’s breezy take on the well-mined boys’-school and coming-of-age genres is grounded in the expository voiceover narration provided by Ned, played with scrappy enthusiasm by Fionn O’Shea in a winning performance reminiscent of a young Jamie Bell. O’Shea was recently nominated for a Rising Star Award at the 2017 Audi Dublin International Film Festival for his role in Handsome Devil.
The two leads have a fantastic rapport, and there are affecting performances by Irish actors Andrew Scott (Sherlock, Pride), as the boys’ gay English teacher, and Michael McElhatton (Game of Thrones), as the school’s headmaster. The eclectic soundtrack features Big Star, Prefab Sprout, and Rufus Wainwright. Butler has even curated a Spotify playlist for fans of the film’s music.
— CHRIS KEECH