In new documentary ‘Handsome’ brothers Nick and Alex set off on a trip around the world to find other siblings who share their experience of living with Down’s syndrome.
Handsome, a new documentary from director Luke White, tells the story of siblings Nick and Alex Bourne as they try to navigate their unique relationship. Nick, the focal point of the film, makes the decision to become a carer for his disabled younger brother Alex, who has Down’s syndrome. Alex needs help with typical everyday tasks, and this new dynamic spurred the creation of the documentary. Nick and Alex set off on a global adventure to meet other siblings in the same position as them, to learn from them and to try and navigate this new part of their lives.
Handsome wastes no time in launching the brothers into their big adventure, spending about two minutes introducing us to the pair before we see them set off in their vintage yellow camper van. Meeting other siblings living with Down’s syndrome proves to be the more insightful part of this documentary, showing us how people respond differently when put under the same circumstances. Nick asks similar questions to the siblings they meet, such as “how do you feel about having such a responsibility?” and “how has this aspect of your life affected you?” This questioning of the siblings opens up a wider discussion of how opinions can vary due to differing factors such as a person’s class or religious belief.
Furthermore, the short moments we get to spend with Nick and Alex invite you to understand what life is like for those with Down’s syndrome and for their loved ones. We are shown moments of their friendship, moments of anger towards each other and, perhaps the hardest to watch, a moment of tough love as we witness Nick trying desperately to get Alex to speak one full sentence. The pair are brothers, and with that comes arguing and bickering. The inclusion of these moments on screen keeps the film somewhat grounded in reality.
It’s therefore unfortunate that Handsome often feels rushed, focusing more on asking big questions as opposed to taking the time to answer them. The film’s opening fails to properly introduce us to the Bourne siblings, instead jumping straight into the action which leaves us unsure of what their relationship is really like. As the film progresses Nick has quite difficult discussions with the other siblings. It naturally takes time for them to open up about how Down’s syndrome has affected their lives, but just as this begins to happen the film jumps to the next location a few minutes before we’re off to meet the next pair. You are never given a chance to dig deep or try to truly understand. Instead you are left with rushed, surface level conversations and long sequences of the boys at the beach.
Any heartfelt discussions between the non-disabled siblings are presented in a way as if the disabled siblings weren’t present, discussing deeply personal things about their life in front of them and never truly asking how they might feel about their situation. At times Handsome seems to focus more on the non-disabled siblings, like Nick, as opposed to giving a platform for both siblings to share their experiences. These moments, and others, cannot help but leave you questioning how much agency and influence the disabled siblings are granted in the film.
Whilst it is clear Handsome wants to present to the viewer what life is like living with Down’s syndrome for both the individual affected and their families, it only manages to do so for those living without the condition. In doing so, it seemingly ignores those it longs to empower.
A documentary that invites you into the lives of families across the world living with Down’s syndrome, Handsome opens up some interesting conversations. However, due to bad pacing and a lack of focus on its subjects it is never truly able to dig deep into the experiences of the siblings presented.
Words by Niamh Brook
‘Handsome’ is now available on all major digital platforms.
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