Eye For Film >> Movies >> Handsome (2021) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Nick and Alex have the kind of closeness that many siblings would envy, an intense bond which clearly brings great joy to both of them, but that bond is complicated by the fact that Alex has Down syndrome and Nick is his carer. Now that they're both adults, Nick, who wants to do other things with his life, knows that their relationship will have to change. Most public conversations about supporting people like Alex, however, focuses on their parents. With no examples of how other siblings have managed such situations to look to, the brothers decide to go out and find them for themselves, and to make a film about it in the process.
There was a big gamble underlying this film because nobody could know how Alex would handle being taken out of his comfortable routine and having to deal with strange people and strange places, but as it turns out he's a trooper. The first port of call isn't too far away, in Cornwall, but the encounter they have there immediately makes it apparent to Nick that different siblings handle Down syndrome in very different ways. He's the one who is ill at ease, whilst Alex is simply enjoying a holiday. Subsequent trips to New York, India and Vietnam bring the brothers into contact with further sibling pairs and Alex makes new friends whilst Nick tries to find out how they handle day to day issues and what their future plans are.
Shot in a very straightforward and open style, this documentary never feels forced but simply allows stories to emerge naturally over time. Its likeable protagonists make it easy to connect with and viewers who have no experience of Down syndrome will find an easy entry point in the sibling relationships. Of course, it's only possible for the film to fit in so much and some viewers with the syndrome won't feel that they're represented by it, but the care relationships are varied and well delineated, and the film also takes in different attitudes to developmental disability around the world.
There are some distressing moments in the later part of the film, thankfully missed by Alex, as the brothers encounter various kinds of exploitation of disabled people, but for the most part the tone is upbeat. Although Nick narrates and leads most of the interaction, Alex also plays a part in drawing out contributions from the people they meet, and the film feels very much like a partnership (director Luke White is a friend of the pair, which helps to make him unobtrusive). We only see a little of each location but what we do see differs from the usual travelogue material and provides different cultural insights.
There are around 40,000 people with Down syndrome in the UK yet their needs and experiences are rarely discussed outside their immediate social circles, and kinship carers in all sorts of situations tend to be invisible. Handsome is a much needed look at these neglected subjects. it's also a pleasure to watch.Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2021
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