GFF 2017: Andrew Scott turns in a lively performance in John Butler's crowd-pleasing dramedy
It's not easy being a gay teenager at a rugby-mad Irish school. Writer-director John Butler's semi-autobiographical comedy drama is a deliberate rebuke to the short shrift that LGBT issues were given in the classic 1980s Brat Pack movies, offering just enough heart to overcome what it lacks in depth.
Fionn O'Shea plays Ned, a young misfit whose instincts run contrary to the authoritarian ethos of his boarding school. Ned is forced to share a room with Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), whose good looks and charisma further alienate Ned, even without taking account of Conor's popularity as the main kicker for the school rugby team. Ned finds guidance in the form of Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott), an unconventional English teacher who manages to stop Ned's plagiarism habit and open up fresh worlds of literature and music. But both Conor and Dan are hiding their homosexuality from the outside world, and when Ned discovers the truth, he sets out on a wayward path that threatens to destroy their reputations.
While Scott's undoubted talents have been underused in many big-budget productions, his work on Butler's debut feature The Bachelor Weekend paves the way for a lively performance here, as the showy role of an inspirational teacher demands. And O'Shea and particularly Galitzine impress as two likeable young men who have yet to figure out who they really are.
As with last year's Sing Street, Handsome Devil shows real willingness to be a crowd-pleaser, but the details are often unpersuasive; the lack of a specific time-period offers only vanilla flavour, while the supposedly oppressive nature of the school is caricatured rather than credible. And the constant lifts from other films means that Handsome Devil, like Ned himself, struggles to find a coherent identity, a serious flaw in a story about finding your own voice.
Screening on Wed 15 and Thu 16 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2017. General release tbc.