Netflix Now: A Remix Done Right: Handsome Devil (2017) - Reviewed

High school movies quickly become tired and cliché by using all the most familiar tropes and characters. But quality films in this genre remix those tropes to make something new. The Irish film Handsome Devil (2017) pulls this off by mixing tropes and structures into something that, though slightly predictable, is truly moving.

The basic plot of the movie reads like a checklist for high school movie tropes (though the film is set at an Irish boarding school famous for its rugby team): an English teacher tries to get his students to use their own voice; a rugby coach, thanks to a new player/student, has the ability to win a long, sought-after championship title; an outsider at the school escapes not being part of the dominant culture through listening to old school music; a new student to the rugby team has a rumored past.

Outcast Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is forced to room with the new star player of the rugby team Conor (Nicholas Galitzine). Each of them requests for a change of rooms, not knowing the truth about each other. After they’re both denied this, they eventually begin to bond over the '80s and '90s Brit pop and New Wave music. Their friendship, though, is challenged by the dominant culture of the school: rugby. Conor’s teammates all hate Ned for being an outcast and for being gay while pushing Conor to avoid his roommate.

Contributing to the conflicts between these two students are the inspiring English teacher Dan Sherry (played by the always engaging Andrew Scott) and rugby coach Pascal O’Keeffe (Moe Dunford); each work to influence both Ned and Conor in varying ways and with varying degrees of success.

Another way that this film stays fresh is through its incorporation of music. Ned and Conor spend time listening to some of Ned’s records in a basement that Ned often escapes to. The soundtrack to various scenes uses many of the Brit Pop classics to strongly complement the characters butting heads, revealing secrets, disappointing each other, and eventually learning from each other. The deft blending of music within the film gives off the charisma and swagger of a Guy Ritchie film and the moving, emotional touch of Wes Anderson slow-mo scenes.

All these elements make the film’s tackling of issues, like using your own voice, not hiding who you are, and homophobia within sports, seem fresh and vibrant.

The film received funds from the Irish Film Board and is currently streaming in Netflix.

--Eric Beach