Set in modern-day Los Angeles, Papi Chulo tells of a down-on-his-luck weatherman (Matt Bomer) who is shaken by the end of a relationship. He has an on-air meltdown, prompting concerned bosses to persuade him to take some time out. To fill his days, he employs a Latino migrant worker (Alejandro Patiño) to paint his home but also to keep him company. Despite their cultural, age and language differences, they connect.
Paul Farren sat down with writer/director John Butler to talk about creating his comedy/drama, the themes of empathy and unlikely friendship, the talents of Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño and working with DOP Cathal Watters and composer John McPhillips.
DIR/WRI: John Butler • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • DES: Kathy Strachan • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott
There’s something immediately repulsing about the homophobic remarks. Not simply by their frequency in Handsome Devil or their variations but by how authentic its usage reflects attitudes regarding sexuality and masculinity in many boys’ schools to this day. As the protagonist, Ned (Fionn O’Shea), explains in the beginning, gay means “bad, crap, different” and to be cast as such is a significant condemnation among peers. Despite whatever social and political progress has been made, the stigma of being gay still remains even if the kids don’t know what it means, and director John Butler illustrates this problem quite well in this touching comedy about two boys becoming the unlikeliest of friends.
Being a music lover, Ned has been bullied for being “gay” for as long as he can remember. Ostracized from his year for being the only boy to loathe rugby, he finds his own space reclusively in his dorm room. That is, until Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) moves in. A transfer student with a history of violence and a natural talent for rugby, Ned takes an instant disliking to the new guy, forming a makeshift Berlin Wall between himself and Conor.
However, Conor’s interest in music, coupled with the assistance of their English teacher (Andrew Scott) in a talent show, quickly breaks Ned down and the two become closer and closer as friends. But when Ned discovers Conor surreptitiously entering a gay bar, and Conor’s rugby team and coach (Moe Dunford) threaten to expose why he left his previous school, Conor is forced to repress his identity and his friendship to Ned in order to protect himself.
Admittedly, Handsome Devil doesn’t appear promising as it begins. The soundtrack, the voiceover narrative from Ned to lazily explain character motivation, and Andrew Scott’s Mr. Sherry emphatically asking students to “reveal to me who you are” has all the signs of a bland coming-of-age story for teens. John Butler, who previously directed and wrote The Stag, re-explores Irish masculinity here again but with the added twist of sexuality and its impact on male identity. For most of the film it works, thanks largely to a terrific cast who viably add dimensions to their characters and make the dramatic spots emotionally effective. Mr. Sherry’s brief glance aside as he assures Conor that “it gets better” fleshes out a character that until then was nothing more than a mentor figure for the protagonists.
While fewer laughs are to be had than Butler’s previous film, Handsome Devil succeeds in delivering a far more satisfying examination of masculinity than before, presenting an encouraging message for teenagers to not be bound by stereotype if it feels unnatural to them. The recurring tropes of teen flicks impede the story from feeling more than cliché, but there’s enough emotional resonance when necessary to give an enjoyable experience nevertheless. Whether it will have influence over its intended demographic is a different story altogether but the attempt to teach the ignorance of stigma is a commendable effort.
Lorna Buttimer caught up with John Butler, co-writer and director of the Irish comedy The Stag, to discuss the making of his first feature.
John Butler has got a bone to pick. ‘There is this cliché out there that producers are uncreative, it’s wrong, totally wrong. Producers are inherently creative. When the budget is low a producer has to be totally creative towards it and the film’. Butler recalls during the production of his new, and first feature, The Stag, moments where his producers had to step in and help make creative decisions caused by budget restrictions. These instances have clearly fostered the belief and experience in Butler that producers are indeed creative; creative with money.
Butler’s belief probably also comes from his close and successful relationship with long-time producers Robert Walpole and Rebecca O’Flanagan. Both have worked with Butler since his early days of TV, shorts and documentaries. When he, and co-writer of The Stag, Peter McDonald decided to write the comedy both producers jumped on board. With their help, Butler was able to approach the Irish Film Board for production financing; as quickly as that they were in production by November of the same year. From the outside looking in, that is one smooth operation and surely the sign of a good director-producer relationship.
However, even with financial backing and great producers, Butler recalls that the production was still tight, ‘It was all meticulously planned. We had no extra budget so we had to plan everything’. But as a result ‘we didn’t have any major problems going from script to screen’.
Still, even with careful and considerate planning, the director says the budget brought difficulties of another kind; production time was short. ‘The whole shoot was only twenty days [as a result]…the hardest bit to film…was a fireplace scene that happens in the middle of the movie. We had ten pages of dialogue and one night to get it covered.’ Throw in six or seven characters with eye-lines to track, lighting for firelight, sound and a two-camera set up and you’re in for one long night. Successfully managing that feat alone gives the director credit in my book.
The director does mention one factor that he considers significant in helping with the tight turnaround; actors. For him they were ‘Brilliant… very smart… very prepared. They arrived on pitch for the characters…and nailed it’. Arriving so prepared was essential for the film. The director recalls that the actors didn’t have time to prepare on set, and they had to jump straight into character as soon as they arrived.
The Stag is, of course, Butler’s first feature-length film, which he directed and co-wrote, and he’s got some advice for any aspiring filmmakers hoping to do the same. Don’t… ‘wait necessarily for development funding, it might come, just write…and if the script works, if the story works, if the beats make sense – then that will carry you through’.
The Stag is released today in Irish cinemas. John Butler’s comedy follows a bachelor party weekend in the great outdoors that takes some unexpected detours. The film stars Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor, Brian Gleeson and Peter McDonald, who co-wrote the script with Butler.
Gemma Creagh caught up with the film’s director, and its stars Andrew Scott and Peter McDonald at the recent Jameson Dublin Film Festival for On the Reel in association with Film Ireland.
The film closed this year’s festival and Gemma was there on the red carpet to find out more about the film and what it’s like for a load of men to be in the nip on a weekend away.
DIR: John Butler • WRI: John Butler, Peter McDonald • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: Peter Robertson • ED: John O’Connor • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Ferdia Murphy • CAST: Andrew Scott, Hugh O’Conor, Peter McDonald, Brian Gleeson
New Irish comedy The Stag boasts an impressive cast including Brian Gleeson, Andrew Scott (fresh from his Sherlock fame) and the film’s co-writer Peter McDonald. Not forgetting, of course, Amy Huberman who – I was surprised to note – wasn’t attending to any table-setting, à laher recent advertising campaign.
The premise is simple enough: Ruth (Amy Huberman) desperately wants her fiancé Fionnan (Hugh O’ Conor) to go on a Stag weekend, and enlists the help of his best friend Davin (Andrew Scott) to get him to go on a “manly” adventure, or rather, to take a trip to the mountains. The catch is that Ruth insists that her mysterious brother “The Machine” (Peter McDonald) must be included in the plans, to the chagrin of all involved. So up the mountains they go, with a series of misadventures guiding the rest of the film along.
As with any road movie or narrative which has a trip at its centre, The Stag is more about an exploration of identity and the journey towards the realisation of that identity, than about the upcoming nuptials of Ruth and Fionnan. It wouldn’t be an Irish film without probing Irish identity just a little, now would it? Moreover, The Stag is really concerned with the exploration of Irish masculinity and in typical Irish fashion, works through these issues in the format of a comedy.
These men don’t belong in the wilderness – gone are the days of representations of rugged Irish masculinity and the idea of Irish identity being tied to the land. Instead, we have the new Irish metro-sexual man in Fionnan, who plans his wedding meticulously, would rather attend a Hens than a Stags and contributes Frere Jaques to an Irish sing-song.
However – this is not a film which takes itself seriously in any way. The working through of Irish masculinity is played for laughs; there is one scene in which the group of lads find themselves naked in the woods (wearing only cavemen-esque attire), as Fionnan and Davin begin to talk through their feelings and emotion is at an all-time high.
The film sets itself up as a parody of sorts, and uses as shorthand for “us Irish” references to the recession and the love/hate relationship we have with U2. Despite making fun of Irish identity in a way that will almost certainly have an audience laughing, the film ironically falls into the trap of perpetuating these same, somewhat jaded discourses. Having said that, the film is a good-natured romp that will certainly entertain. Just, enough with Irish masculinity already. We’re ready for something else.