Handsome: Review

Handsome: Review

Being a caretaker for a disabled family member is not an easy task.  It is unpaid, underappreciated, and often requires juggling time between a salaried job and caretaker responsibilities.  Director Luke White’s documentary, Handsome, chronicles the lives of the Bourne siblings.  Alex has Down syndrome.  Nicholas considers the best living alternative for Alex—living at home together or finding a professional live-in caretaker that would help Alex with his day-to-days.  

Nicholas arranges a journey that takes the brothers from Cornwall, to New York, to Mumbai, and to Hanoi in order to understand what life is like for siblings living with Down syndrome and the quality of life for those who have Down syndrome in different parts of the world.  Handsome not only helps us appreciate the travails of those with Down syndrome, but also the differing attitudes families and nations have toward Down. 

Nicholas discovers that while some families dare not mention the “D word” so as to not stigmatize their loved ones, other families talk openly about Down syndrome.  Handsome is revelatory in its discussion of the lack of programs and support offered to adults with Down syndrome.  These are social deficiencies that are only exacerbated—especially in the case of India—by extreme poverty.  

Handsome elucidates without simplifying.  Non-Down siblings openly discuss the dilemmas they face.  They want to live and take care of their Down siblings but fear the costs they may have to pay in their own romantic relationships.  Nicholas and other siblings wonder about the sexual desires of their Down siblings along with the level of self-awareness they may have that they are different from others.  Often, society stigmatizes those with Down and makes them all too self-aware of their condition. 

Even something like reaching the right equilibrium of caretaking requires consideration.  Nicholas wonders if his parents’ tendency to “baby” and do everything for Alex may not have hampered his ability to communicate verbally.  Documentaries like Handsome are not flashy, but they do precisely what they are meant to do.  They take viewers into a relatively unexplored world and educate us.    

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A Cuban-American obsessed with documentaries and anything by Kubrick, Haneke, Breillat, or McQueen. If he is not watching films in his hometown of Miami, he is likely travelling somewhere in Asia enjoying okonomiyaki or pho.


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