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Review: Irish lads discover themselves in the coming-of-age drama ‘Handsome Devil’

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Fionn O’Shea, left, and Nicholas Galitzine star in “Handsome Devil,” set in an Irish all-boys boarding school whose chief religion is rugby.
(Breaking Glass Pictures)

Credible characters, some nice writing and a vital message highlight “Handsome Devil,” an Irish boarding school dramedy about coming out — and coming of age. Although the film can feel a bit been-there-seen-that, this earnest, well-drawn tale ultimately proves distinct and winning enough to warrant a look.

Ned (Fionn O’Shea) is a sexually ambiguous loner returning to ivy-walled Wood Hill, an all-boys school whose chief religion is rugby. The wry, flame-haired Ned knows his place among the jocks and bullies, though he rarely escapes the wrath of taunting classmate Weasel (Ruairi O’Connor).

But when transfer student Conor (Nicholas Galitzine), a good-looking, if somewhat mysterious, star athlete, is assigned to room with the wary Ned, the boys’ initial cold war gives way to a warmish, symbiotic friendship that turns complicated and revelatory. So much so, that the fate of the school’s hallowed rugby team will hang in the balance — and lead to a stirring, all-for-one-and-one-for-all finale.

Director John Butler’s semi-autobiographical script deftly captures the privileged, self-involved vibe of tony private schools as well as the emotional seesawing of developing teens.

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Equally effective is the film’s portrayal of its lead adults: an inspiring new English teacher (Andrew Scott) who learns to practice what he preaches; the rugby team’s boorish, win-at-all-costs coach (Moe Dunford) and the academy’s surprisingly equitable headmaster (Michael McElhatton).

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‘Handsome Devil’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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