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Film / Handsome Devil

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Handsome Devil is a 2016 Irish coming of age comedy-drama written and directed by John Butler.

Handsome Devil tells the story of two boys in a rugby-obsessed boarding school – bullied outsider Ned (Fionn O'Shea) and ‘macho athlete’ Conor (Nicholas Galitzine). Though they appear to be complete opposites, they develop a friendship after being forced to share a dorm room.

Tropes used in this film:

  • Abusive Parents: Heavy implications of emotional abuse from Conor's dad, who reacts to Conor's rugby success by telling him "It was like you were my son again".
  • Advertised Extra: Amy Huberman featured heavily in the advertising and in most of the promotional materials; she appears in a handful of scenes and has no more than two lines.
  • Artistic License – Sports: Largely averted (see Shown Their Work below), but the editing of the Senior Cup final means that the scoreline makes no sense at certain points.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The advertising around the film (and various press write-ups) made it seem like music-loving outcast Ned would be the teenager struggling his sexuality, rather than rugby star Conor.
  • Blatant Lies: Dan's attempt to brush off Conor seeing him with his boyfriend in a gay bar as 'just being there with a friend' who's only tactile because he's European.
  • Blithe Spirit: Dan Sherry. Think of a modern version of Robin Williams' Mr. Keating, only more badass. And Irish. And a closeted gay man.
  • Book Dumb: Most of the rugby players, on account of the classes they're allowed to skip.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Ned appears this way at first, but ultimately learns to apply himself.
  • Duet Bonding: Conor and Ned, when rehearsing for the talent show.
  • Expy: Wood Hill College, a prestigious rugby-obsessed boys' boarding school based in the midlands of Ireland, should in no way be confused with Clongowes Wood College, a prestigious rugby-obsessed boys' boarding school based in the midlands of Ireland.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: As he follows Conor in town, Ned narrates that he was planning on surprising him, only to be surprised by Conor; seconds later, Conor walks into a bar with pink triangles in the windows, tipping the audience off as to the reveal.
  • Forced Out of the Closet: Ned does this to Conor after a fight.
  • Framing Device: The film opens with Ned writing his entry for the National Essay competition, and his voiceover is revealed at the end to be excerpts from him reading it at the final.
  • Gay Bar Reveal: When Ned tries to follow Conor into a bar, and the penny slowly drops.
    Ned: What kind of bar is this?
    Bouncer: A bar for adults.
    Ned: ...what kind of adults?
    Bouncer: Gay adults.
  • The Generation Gap: An Irish LGBT version, given the massive shift from the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 90s to being the first country to legalise gay marriage through popular vote in 2015. Dan's advice (as a man in his 40s who is still closeted at work) to Conor is to continue to hide who he is, and that things will get better when he's older. Ned, a teenager, advises him to just come out and own it. Conor taking the latter path inspires Dan to come out to his colleagues.
  • Genius Bruiser: Played with. Early on in the film, Ned makes a quip about the summer treating Weasel well, implying that he may have performed so poorly in class that he had to stay behind for summer classes. But it's not every day you see a bully jock referencing Brutus' betrayal of Julius Caesar, as Weasel does in the scene where Ned finally stands up to him, only for Conor to angrily tell him to get back to the dorm.
    • As rugby players are allowed to blatantly miss their classes for practice, as explained below, there's a good possibility Weasel is actually quite a smart kid who only gets (implied) bad grades because the school lets him get away with skipping class in favor of rugby.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Ned's plan to get himself expelled.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Pascal. Even as everyone on the team (except Weasel) sides with Conor after he officially comes out, Pascal remains stubborn to the point that he's willing to forfeit the final, rather than have a gay boy play on his team. But he's seen cheering his team on, and eventually shaking hands with Conor, as Wood Hill rallies to win the game.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Averted; Ned isn't a terrible singer, but trying to sing a duet without Conor ends predictably badly.
  • Jerk Jock: Weasel and Pascal, quite obviously. Also the male cheerleaders, who openly get physical with Ned and taunt him with homophobic slurs when he refuses to join in the cheering.
  • Let Us Never Speak of This Again: When Dan and Conor spot each other at a gay bar, their conversation on the train home is entirely this trope, without either of them wanting to say it.
  • Lovable Jock: Victor. Despite deliberately invoking the Dumb Jock trope by repeating his leaving certificate so he could be captain two years running, he's no O'Bannion from Dazed and Confused, as he clearly doesn't condone Weasel's bullying of Ned. He is also the second to show his support to Conor in the final locker room scene.
  • Missing Mom: Ned's mother died a few years before the film starts, and his dad has remarried; not hugely relevant to his character, though it's the plot driver for why he's still in boarding school, and goes some way towards explaining his isolation.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: During Ned's slow-mo walk out of the school hall after outing Conor; he has a quick, wordless version of this before he's even made it out of the room.
  • My Greatest Failure: The theme of Ned's essay is the worst moment of one's life, a moment of such crippling shame that you wake up in the middle of the night remembering it. It's implied at one point that his might be his solo talent show performance when Conor bails on him. In fact, it's outing Conor in front of the entire school.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Weasel, even to staff members.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Mostly averted, as Nicholas Galitzine does an excellent Irish accent, with one notable slip when he yells at Dan Sherry the night before the Senior Cup final.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Walter Curley is rugby-obsessed and turns a blind eye to a lot of the bullying and hazing in the school, but he cuts Pascal off completely when Pascal tries to imply that there's something untoward about employing a gay teacher, reacts furiously to Ned outing Conor in front of the entire school, and is completely unfazed when Dan introduces his boyfriend.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Conor beating the hell out of Weasel during their first training session seems on first viewing like he's standing up for Ned (and it's noted afterwards that Weasel has stopped picking on Ned as much). After the reveal that Conor's constant fighting in his previous school was always aimed at shutting up people who were gossiping about him being gay, beating up the openly homophobic Weasel makes a lot of sense with or without Ned's involvement.
  • Rule of Three: The first time Ned and Conor practice their duet together it takes three tries before they get it right.
  • Serious Business: The seriousness with which Senior Cup rugby is taken by the school may seem bizarre for anyone who didn't go to a rugby-playing school - Ned describes players being able to skip class without consequence, whole classes are disrupted for 'cheerleading practice', and when Conor goes missing the principal is more concerned about the impact of playing an untested outhalf than the fact that one of his underage students has disappeared. Absolutely Truth in Television for a certain type of Irish rugby school.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland's most-capped rugby player) was brought in to choreograph the rugby scenes. John Butler has stressed how important this was, given his own hatred of sports films where the action isn't realistic.
    • Numerous minor elements are extremely on-point for anyone who went to an Irish school, and particularly to the type of private rugby boarding school portrayed in the film - the leeway given to Senior players, the captain repeating his Leaving Certificate twice to keep playing, the awkward talent show with the nearest girls' school (who are all shipped in to cheer for Wood Hill matches), etc.
  • Straight Gay: Deconstructed with Conor, whose central conflict involves his love of rugby in a hypermasculine culture that tells people they can't be gay and good at sports.
  • Talent Double: Largely averted; Nicholas Galitzine (Conor) played for the Harlequins Academy when he was younger (only getting into acting after an injury stopped him playing), and the two rugby teams are sufficiently padded out with non-acting rugby players to avoid the use of body doubles.
  • Un-Duet: When Conor bails on the talent show, Ned tries to sing their harmonised duet along, with predictably terrible results.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Zig-zagged with Conor. Part of him wants to bond with his dad again (as shown by him getting drunk with his dad and teammates), but he also knows that his dad is a terrible person and an alcoholic, and reacts to his dad's "Well done!" speech with disgust (given that it's implicitly a "Well done on being sport, and not gay" speech).