Nightmare. Because dopey dad (Ardal O’Hanlon) and chain-smoking new wife (Amy Huberman) are off to Dubai, fey teen Ned (O’Shea) has been unceremoniously dumped in a boarding school where – nightmare - rugby is life and bullies like Weasel (Ruairi O’Connor) are given free rein despite being called Weasel. And now his new handsome roommate is Conor (Galitzine) is a rugby god who was expelled from his last school because of fighting. Nightmare. But wait: Conor kind of likes Ned's taste in music and wouldn't be adverse to appearing in a talent show with him. That would have to be kept quiet from man's man rugby coach Pascal (Dunford) though…
John Butler's follow up to The Stag is an altogether tighter affair. The dialogue is sharper, wittier. The characters more identifiable. What's at stake immediately apparent. A tender and softer offering than the broad comedy of Butler's debut, Handsome Devil taps into that notion that a boy's first deep friendship is really a love affair, something that was bubbling under Superbad, and the fear of that becoming public knowledge is palpable; to be labelled gay (or gay by association), is a social death sentence in this uber heterosexual world. Real men drink pints - not tall, thin glasses of water.
This dehumanising of the 'weak' is front and centre throughout, as Moe Dunford’s smiling homophobe exemplifies when he accuses an unfocussed player of thinking about his boyfriend, with old school principal Michael McElhatton (sporting a cloak) turning a blind eye to the abuse. "They’re no good to me," whispers Dunford menacingly in English teacher Scott's ear when he talks about those who have interests in art and music and books. No good to anyone is what's read between lines.
Taking its title from a Smiths B-side, there's a love for great indie pop with The Housemartins, Prefab Sprout and Big Star on the soundtrack (Butler thankfully resisting the temptation to opt for the obvious tracks) and eighties teen movies (nods to Dead Poets Society and All The Right Moves abound with Conor's sensitive sporty type in similar vein to Emilio Estevez in Breakfast Club). The different wipes are fun too, and they aren't just casually used: they can unite and isolate the central characters when needed.
It doesn't have it all its own way though. O’Shea's narration dominates, giving the game away on his immediate actions when a surprise would have worked to greater effect, and the characters in his orbit present far more interesting possibilities: Scott's Dan and his running battles with Dunford are a delight and the big climax belongs to Conor, not Ned.