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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Handsome Devil, an Irish film set in a teen boarding school, is an intimate look at being different, standing up for oneself, and developing empathy. Familiar issues, such as bullying, gender discrimination, and athletics versus academics, are all explored with originality and sensitivity. While there is no kissing, overt sexuality, or nudity (except for one brief shot of a sketch of a woman's breast), gay characters are at the core of this film. Teens engage in several fist fights, two of which draw blood from the participants. Language includes profanity: "f--k," "piss off," "hell," "s--t" and some slurs: "queer," "homo," "faggot." The boys consume beer in social settings (including one gay bar), and mild intoxication occurs in one instance. Note: In Ireland, drinking is legal for kids 16 and over in some circumstances. One adult character smokes. Portrayal of teachers is particularly thoughtful and sympathetic, except for a one-dimensional homophobe. It's a solid movie: heartfelt, wise, and inspirational. It's recommended that parents decide whether or not this film is for their kids based on their maturity and interest.
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What's the story?
Ned (Finn O'Shea), a self-acknowledged misfit, really doesn't want to go to boarding school in HANDSOME DEVIL. He's almost hoping he'll be quickly expelled, but his dad and stepmom are resolute. Woodhill College (an Irish high school) is just what he expected. The boys are all too "cool," obsessed with rugby, and intolerant of kids that don't immediately fit in. Ned's only solace is that he's got a room of his own. Until, at the last possible moment, new student Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), rugby star extraordinaire, and the coolest of the cool, is forced to join him. Ned, introspective and quirky, is isolated and bullied. Conor, who's been expelled from his last school for fighting, just wants to be left alone. Both boys complain to the headmaster, to no avail. Enter Dan Sherry (Andrew Scott), English teacher with a strong purpose. Ned and Conor build a literal wall between their halves of the room, but with Mr. Sherry's involvement, the wall comes down. Then, as the specter of Ned's probable gayness and gayness in general loom large, relationships are strained. Prodded by Weasel (Ruairi O'Connor), a bully, and Pascal O'Keefe (Moe Dunford), the school's homophobic rugby coach, the situation is tense. And, as the rugby season winds down and the championship match approaches, events take a critical turn. Mistakes are made; characters behave badly; and emotional survival hangs in the balance.
Is it any good?
While the themes and storyline may be familiar, the performances, insights, and filmmaking skills are not; what might be routine becomes compelling, inspiring, and very moving. The teen actors are uniformly stellar; O'Shea and Galitzine will make you smile and break your heart. Andrew Scott, as teacher Dan Sherry, gives depth to what might have been a conventional character. Writer John Butler directs with a sure hand and an open heart. It's not a perfect movie: the villains are shallow and the outcome is ultimately predictable, but there are plenty of surprises and enough nuance to make Handsome Devil special. Excellent for teens, and highly recommended for family viewing.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the fact that though there have been many movies and stories about gay men and women being victims of bigotry, Handsome Devil may be particularly inspirational for all kids. What surprised you? How did your "rooting interest" change as the story evolved? In what other ways did the filmmakers make this familiar story unique?
What is meant in this film when a character is advised "not to speak in a borrowed voice."?
The two bullies are basically one-dimensional characters in this film. Would it be more interesting if they were shown as flawed, more complex individuals? Why or why not? Was any change of heart either of them experienced well-motivated by the conclusion?
How was empathy shown in the movie?
- In theaters: September 8, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: June 2, 2017
- Cast: Finn O'Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott
- Director: John Butler
- Studio: Breaking Glass Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Friendship, High School, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 95 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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