Old Boys

The Cyrano de Bergerac story is reworked in this endearing tale of puppy love starring The End of the F***ing World's Alex Lawther

Film Review by Iana Murray | 21 Jun 2018
  • Old Boys
Film title: Old Boys
Director: Toby MacDonald
Starring: Alex Lawther, Pauline Etienne, Jonah Hauer-King, Joshua McGuire, Denis Ménochet

Cyrano de Bergerac, the eponymous hero of Edmond Rostand’s play, is unable to woo over the girl of his dreams for fear of being rejected because of his giant nose. Too self-conscious to court her face-to-face, he writes poetic love letters to her on behalf of a handsome man who is also trying to win her heart. This exercise in literary catfishing is given an 80s update in Toby MacDonald’s charming but trite Old Boys.

A bespectacled Alex Lawther takes Cyrano’s place here as Amberson and – though he loses the schnozzle – he is unattractive in demeanour. Lanky and awkward, he can’t get a sentence out without stumbling over his words. He’s taken up residence in an Eton-esque boarding school for boys and is bullied relentlessly with ritualistic hazing. Amberson, with his fondness for animation and poetry, has little in common with the rowdy gents around him. In this age-old establishment – whose motto is “act manfully” – hypermasculinity is rewarded, and boorish traditions are as vital as an expensive education. It’s a stark departure from the female boarding school movies that had their heyday in the late 00s. Films like St. Trinian’s and Wild Child depicted deviance as rebellion; in Old Boys, deviance is only expected.

Amberson sees an opportunity for love after an accidental (quite literally) meet-cute in the garden of feisty French girl Agnes. Done with bad boy types, she confesses that she has a crush on golden boy Winchester. The problem: Winchester is hopeless with girls. Amberson unwittingly finds himself playing cupid – using artsy video tapes and letters to construct Winchester as the suave enigma Amberson wishes he was. There’s a playful Nouvelle Vague quality to the short tapes exchanged, in what is otherwise an aesthetically dry film. Regardless, MacDonald's debut packs a lot of charm. The manipulation that foregrounds this small-town courtship may be somewhat distasteful, but Old Boys is an endearing slice of adolescent puppy love.


Old Boys has its world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 21 Jun, with an additional screening on 23 Jun – more info here

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