An Irish import from John Butler is familiar and lumpish but honorable and charming at the same time. One which will appeal most to a discerning LGBT community.
Handsome Devil is set in a modern boarding school obsessed with rugby as two disparate teen boys gradually bond as they struggle with personal angst.
Butler pivots well in an articulate, earnest way from Fionn O'Shea's Ned Roche, a dweeb of a loner with a punkish look as his upwardly mobile parents relocate him to an institution where he fools an older English teacher for awhile with his lifting of song lyrics for essays. He'll meet a transferred Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), a rugby star with a penchant for roughhousing.
Elements of intolerance, music, and inspirational educators are at play in a sure-fire tale with the all-important match near the end which doesn't have a brazenness which could have made it even more bracing while definitely showcasing the sports culture around the coming-of-age stuff which can be a mite mawkish.
Still, the manner that Butler presents his archetypes is more effective and thoughtful often due to what the actors bring to their roles. O'Shea clicks nicely into the bullied student by preening weasel folks because of looks and personality. His sensitive portrait is nearly matched by Galitzine in an inquisitive, contemplative turn. A classy portrait of wry canniness comes from Andrew Scott (reminiscent of Robin Williams's John Keating in Dead Poet's Society) as the new hip instructor who is on to Ned, but realizes the potential in him and Conor with a mutual artistic endeavor on the horizon.
That puts the athletic chap at odds with aggressively assertive Pascal (Moe Dunford) as tensions arise with upper-echelon figures. Revelations will emerge along the way with curiosity that elucidates a crowd-pleaser grounded in self-understanding and camaraderie. Without the accountability for certain individuals and a system that can leave some cineastes a bit miffed. How this Devil is really handsome isn't because of the usual stylish flourishes from Butler (which includes split-screens, slow-motions, and wipes) but the soulfulness in espousing to be yourself in order to seize the day.