A young outsider is sent to a boarding school where Rugby is more important than the education in the classroom. Having no interest at all in Rugby or being at the school in general Ned is being bullied by pretty much everyone. When a new boy is placed in Ned’s room, and he’s a Rugby natural, it seems that Ned’s worst nightmares are coming true. Thankfully though Conor isn’t the A-Typical Rugby player that Ned has experienced in the school before. There is also new English Teacher who reeks of Robin Williams in The Dead Poets Society.
I want you to get one thing clear. I won’t go easy on Irish films because I’m an Irish reviewer, in fact I’ll be the other way round if the truth is being told. Our film board that finances a lot of Irish movies gets things so wrong sometimes that I want to go straight into their decision meetings and scream at them. But there are times in the last thirteen months that I have never been prouder of the content that we’ve released. Viva, Sing Street, A Date for Mad Mary, and The Young Offenders were the highlights for me over all the films last year. This year Handsome Devil will have an easy ride to being on my top ten of the year.
It’s a coming of age story about the young lad Ned who, after his Mother dies and his Father remarries, is sent to what he calls Prison and he dreams of being expelled. He thinks he’s gotten a room on his own when a transfer upsets his plans. The new boy Conor is a Rugby natural and a handsome devil. But unlike the rest of the Rugby heads at the school Conor and Ned actually like each other. They struggle with their friendship and the new teacher, played by Andrew Scott, aids them to become better friends than the rest of the students and faculty want them to be.
There is a beautiful mix of comedy and drama, with so much of the Irish School system packed into the film. Wonderfully written, witty and real, it borrows from movies that have come before it, like Dead Poets Society, Sing Street, and the teen comedies of John Hughes. However there are a lot of films that try to steal from the past, but they fail, here in Handsome Devil they steal and make better, one of the hardest things in movies to do. It’s done with ease. The young cast is fantastic and the two leads Fionn O’Shea as Ned and Nicholas Galitzine as Conor contain the perfect chemistry for their roles. Being that age is hard enough but when you are forced into those roles in school it’s harder still. They manage to convey the teen drama, the end of the world feeling that every small disaster is it for them, with an effortless ease. The supporting cast, with some familiar names from the Irish acting community.
When a film makes you laugh when you don’t feel like it, when it makes you think about your own life, the past, the present, the future, when you leave the cinema with a smile on your face then you’ve seen something special. This is the best comedy that I’ve seen this year and I say that with ease, not because it’s been a horrible year for comedies, but it has, I say this because the best comedies have the hint of sadness through them that makes them feel real. No matter where you are on this planet you’re going to understand these characters, you’re going to understand the feeling of not being true to yourself when it’s easier to fit in. I wanted more, I wanted to see these characters 20 years down the line, meeting at a reunion, not that we’re big on those here in Ireland, but you just want to share their lives from this movie on. This is one for the end of year lists. This is one that I cannot express how much I want you to see it. I’m going again on release. Then again. Also probably a fourth time. It’s that enjoyable.
Director: John Butler
Stars: Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott