Handsome Devil may be cliched, offering a coming of age narrative that has been done countless times before. Yet even as it hits the expected story beats, it offers unique characterisations that help make it easily stand out from the pack – it earns enough goodwill during its brief running time that the lapse in to underdog sports drama territory in the final act made me genuinely want to leap to my feet and cheer. It’s a feel good film that understands that you have to push the characters through emotional hell for the triumphant climax to successfully register; and as we see them grow through hidden turmoil, the easier it is to root for them.
With a music-centric narrative and Irish setting, Handsome Devil also invites comparison to Sing Street, last year’s big crowd pleasing word-of-mouth success story. Of course, Handsome Devil is significantly better; whereas Sing Street frequently relied on outdated and entirely unnecessary homophobic gags (even from the protagonists), the LGBT narrative of Handsome Devil ensures we actually see the day-to-day issues of a gay teenager in a school filled entirely with overwhelmingly mocking, heterosexual men.
When additional gay characters are introduced, the film earns extra points for never attempting to force them in to a relationship – this is a story solely about finding your own voice, to use a cliche that is surprisingly used to great effect in a speech here, and coming to terms with your sexuality. The characters have a refreshing independency, not relying on each other in order to come out. That’s what helps Handsome Devil feel surprisingly mature, in terms of being both a “coming of age” story and a teen-centered LGBT narrative.
I was genuinely surprised by Handsome Devil; despite trotting out many familiar narrative elements, the introduction of many easily empathetic and believable characters makes it easy to overlook the flaws of familiarity. Credit has to go to writer/director John Butler’s screenplay for breathing new life in to a storyline that has seemingly been done to death already. It is without a doubt one of the feel good films of the year.