To See or Not to See: Handsome Devil
John Butler’s coming-of-age tale, Handsome Devil, is a meaningful lesson about living an authentic life and finding your voice.
Set at an Irish boarding school where rugby is treated like a religion, Handsome Devil tells the feel-good story of an unlikely friendship that forms between two outsiders that find solace in one another. As the film opens, we’re introduced to Ned (Fionn O’Shea), an artistic outcast, who is the subject of ridicule for his lack of enthusiasm towards the only thing that matters at the sport-obsessed institution. It’s an unbearable situation that leaves Ned questioning what he needs to do in order to get expelled. To make matters worse, Ned is forced to room with Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), a star athlete that transfers to Woodhill College after being kicked out of his old school for violence—talk about adding insult to injury! The pair who seemingly have nothing in common get off to a rough start when Ned is verbally harassed by the team and Conor watches as a bystander. Soon, a line in the sand is drawn, or in this case, a makeshift wall is built, dividing their room.
When Ned plagiarizes song lyrics for a homework assignment, the boys begin to discover a mutual appreciation for music, which serves as a lifeline in salvaging their relationship. That bond is further explored when their professor, Mr. Sherry (played by the always charming Andrew Scott), forces them to perform at a talent show, much to the distain of Conor’s coach, Pascal (Moe Dunford), who urges his pupil to be mindful of who he associates himself with.
While the plot may sound all too familiar, it’s the direction and script by John Butler that keeps the film feeling fresh. Being a semi-autobiographical work that is near and dear to the writer-director’s heart, the love and care put into it is definitely palpable while watching. It’s a film that will resonate with any audience, but especially with the LGBTQ community. Fionn O’Shea and Nicholas Galitzine deliver masterful performances that bring new life to characters that may have felt cliché and stereotypical.
Handsome Devil isn’t the coming-of-age story we asked for, but the one we needed—an instant cult classic. Andrew Scott’s character perfectly summarizes the film’s inspiring message when he asks his students, “If you spend your whole life being someone else, who will be you?”