Deepa Mehta is known for directing thoughtful dramas that explore the conventions of the world, and how people don’t fit into them. Funny Boy, adapted from the novel of the same name by Shyam Selvadurai, is another of these films. Following the life of Arjie, a young gay man growing up in Sri Lanka, in a culture that does not accept homosexuality.
It is a thoughtful film and one that will be important to anyone who is seeking acceptance in a society that doesn’t accept them. It also tells a story we’ve seen before but pitched against a backdrop of the tensions between the Tamils and Sinhalese peoples that eventually led to the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Much of the story you can probably guess. Arjie (played by Arush Nand as a boy) lives in relative wealth with his family in Colombo. He prefers to play with girls, he likes makeup and dresses, and all the adults around agree there is something “funny” about him. The first part of the film follows young Arjie as the influence of his aunt Radha (Agam Darshi) –who is less interested in Sri Lankan cultural norms thanks to her time at university in Canada– to be who he is and not who the world wants him to be.
The latter half follows Arjie as a young man (now played by Brandon Ingram) through his explorations of himself and young love, all while the country is building to a boiling point around him. Some of this might sound like spoilers, but this really is a story we’ve seen before. It is well-produced and directed and features a beautiful score by Howard Shore, but other than the Sri Lankan backdrop it doesn’t offer that much that is new.
Still, Ingram is a young talent to watch. He has a charisma as Arjie that is undeniable. Agam Darshi is also having a good time as the unconventional travelling auntie, and it’s fun to see her chafe against the rules of her home country after experiencing life abroad. Her story takes a gut-wrenching turn that solidifies her as the MVP of the film.
Funny Boy would have you believe that it’s an Indian Moonlight, but while it shares some similarities (a young gay protagonist, a life story told in vignettes and a story that feels at least partly autobiographical ), it is missing that certain Je ne sais quois that would take it from being a good film (which it is) to a great one.
Funny Boy will have a limited theatrical release in Calgary and Edmonton on November 27th. It will then premiere on CBC and CBC Gem on December 4th, followed by a release on Netflix on December 10th in the US, UK, and Australia.