Handsome available on digital release from 30th August is a touching documentary film about two brothers Nick and Alex who travel around the world to talk to other siblings, where one or the other lives with Down’s Syndrome, to find out how they have been tackling their lives.
It begins with Nick talking about his own thoughts and feelings towards having a Down’s Syndrome brother who now lives with him. His brother, Alex, is 23 years old but continues to need a lot of care every day to help him with the simplest of every day tasks and Nick is unsure what the future holds for them, especially if he takes over from his parents and becomes Alex’s full-time carer. His plan is to spend a year with Alex travelling the world to meet other Down’s Syndrome siblings to see how they are living their lives and also see if Alex can become more independent.
The trip includes the USA, India and Vietnam but the first stop is Cornwall, in the UK. Nick drives there in a hired camper van to stay at a campsite on the coast. We see the brother’s loving relationship but also the extent of Alex’s difficulties in particular his limited speech or even mobility. Tasks like going to the supermarket for camping provisions show the dependency of Alex on Nick for all the decision making, and any thoughts of independence look a long way away.
The next day they’re off to visit the first family, Holly and her brother Charlie, and so begin the emotional conversations with Nick talking about life with a Down’s Syndrome sibling. Holly is an attractive young girl who is very close to her brother with Down’s Syndrome, a term she finds difficult to use. The family own a large modern looking ranch and Charlie is living in his own annexed room next to the house with his own kitchen and bathroom, something Nick recognises as a good thing to provide as much independence as possible. There is plenty of common ground for them to discuss, and one of the first things is whether or not to use the ‘D’ word and the question of how aware their siblings are of having an ‘extra chromosome’ condition?
After they have left Holly and Charlie they head overseas to visit different cities around the world moving from city to city meeting siblings from different social backgrounds and from non-western backgrounds discovering the differences and similarities between their lives and even the offering of finding a cure.
It’s filmed in a handheld video diary style and Nick puts in a perfectly adjusted narrative performance throughout. He looks and even sounds just like the documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux, so much so that I thought he was actually a professional TV presenter. Alex on the other hand was very uncommunicative, which meant his involvement in the interviews was limited and you wonder just how much speech therapy would be necessary to get him to the same level. He still makes a game travel companion willing to bear all for the camera but he has to take a back seat to Nick’s almost incessant search for answers. Credit must go to the filmmaking brothers Luke and Ed White who directed and did the cinematography respectively and have managed to piece together a warmhearted filmic story for what is essentially just an alternative travel log on Down’s Syndrome.
Whilst unlikely to win any BAFTA awards for investigative journalism, it shows the brother’s heart-wrenching journey in search of ideas to help them make a better future together and whilst their Nomadland experience is only brief it is a fine example of how bringing disability to the fore can make compassionate, entertaining viewing.
Director: Luke White
Stars: Nick and Alex Bourne
Genre: Documentary, Drama
Run time: 1hr 38min