Friday 27 August 2021

"Handsome" (The Guardian 27/08/21)

Handsome **

Dir: Luke White. Documentary with: Nick Bourne, Alex Bourne, Amber Maillard, Armond Maillard. 98 mins. No cert.

On the rare occasions the cinema has engaged with Down’s syndrome – and really only 1996’s The Eighth Day and 2019’s The Peanut Butter Falcon spring to mind – it’s been in the form of sweetly sentimental road trips. It travels far wider, but Luke White’s meandering, naggingly superficial and sometimes outright misjudged doc hews to a similar path, dispatching Nick Bourne and younger brother Alex, who has Down’s, to swap tales with similar support networks around the globe. Narrator Nick has Louis Theroux’s specs, crossed-arm stance and stop-start syntax down pat. What he lacks are Theroux’s generally sure journalistic instincts: the sense of where the story lies, the ability to cut to the chase, and the good grace to remove himself from the picture as and when the narrative demands it.

The film’s strongest suit is its fond observation of the brothers’ interactions – larking around Central Park, cleaning up after underwear-soaking accidents – which speaks to a great love and tenderness. In itself, this would be instructive. Elsewhere, White betrays the influence of constructed-reality TV: a scene of Nick and Alex roughhousing looks to have been captured by multiple cameras simultaneously – or replayed for one camera – and their progress invokes the dread word “journey”. Yet their jetting-off raises questions of privilege that are only patchily answered on screen, and Handsome becomes excruciatingly naïve the further it travels; as the brothers poke round Mumbai’s slums and visit palmists in Hanoi, both the film’s gaze and its editorial take a pronounced turn for the touristic.

A fundamental problem is that wherever the Bournes go, the conversations they initiate aren’t deep enough to generate the lessons the film goes hunting. We see lovely scenery in Cornwall, and meet lovely people in Brooklyn, but there’s nothing on this itinerary to make viewers stop and think. Worse: there’s way too much of one brother, and nowhere near enough of the other. Nick seems semi-aware of this failing – “I’m talking about you as if you’re not here,” he apologises to Armand Maillard, a young New Yorker with Down’s – but Alex remains a largely mute background presence, left looking bored in mid-interview cutaways. In Vietnam, he appears to go into outright foot-dragging revolt, possibly fed up with being hauled round as baggage on a middling Gap-year project.

Handsome opens in selected cinemas from Monday.

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