Written and Directed by John Butler
Premiered September 11, 2016, at the Toronto International Film Festival
Review by Stephen O. Murray
October 1, 2017.
I liked the Irish coming-of-age dramedy Handsome Devil a lot.
I knew that I’d seen the actor playing the English teacher, but couldn’t figure out where. IMDB showed me that Andrew Scott has been the nemesis of Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty, on Sherlock. He was in Pride, too. And he has been getting raves for playing Hamlet in the West End. Scott has some range!
The no-nonsense English teacher, Mr. Sherry [Scott], is covertly gay. So is Conor [Nicholas Galitzine], the new boy who lifts the rugby team to championship caliber. The narrator, Ned [Fionn O’Shea] is not interested in sports and is labeled gay by his classmates even though only wants to be friends with Conor, not to be his lover.The voiceover was supplied by Director John Butler, he reveals in a Krakow Q&A
It is unclear whether headmaster Curly [Michael McElhatton] knew that Conor was gay before placing him with the outcast Ned (or whether Ned had the game to go with the name). The too-hearty rugby coach [Moe Dunford] eventually comes around—when Conor returns at half-time and wins the semi-finals.
Both the sports story and the honesty/coming-out stories are familiar, but it is well-played here with such wry humor as to enchant me. It is a very likable movie. I saw it as a variant of A Separate Peace and Another Country with a happy ending, though there is much of Good Will Hunting in it, too.
Asked about the title, writer/editor John Butler said there were four, including Scott (who was onstage with him during the interview). So why the singular? I think the real “Handsome Devil” was Conor, who finds his own voice after being outed in a fury at the rugby frenzy (and by Conor’s avoiding him of late) by Ned.
“Be yourself” is very tough advice, especially for adolescents in a jock-worshiping culture, even a very gifted athlete, as well for the chronically bullied Ned. (And Butler, who attended such a boarding school, says he was half Ned, half-Conor?).
©2017, Stephen O. Murray