Canada’s official Best International Feature Film entry for the 93rd Academy Awards and adapted from the widely acclaimed novel of the same name, Funny Boy follows Arjie, a young Timalar boy, coming of age and coming to terms with his sexuality amidst rising tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamils in the years leading up to the Sri Lankan Civil War.
Given that homosexuality remains illegal in Sri Lanka to this day, the story is an important one that will resonate with audiences of all nationalities. Shown through glimpses of Arjie’s sexuality as a young boy (portrayed by Arush Nand) and his first sexual encounters as a teenager (Brandon Ingram), the subject matter can feel as though it is dealt with in an on the nose manner at points but the oppression of Arjie and the small moments in which he feels free are portrayed in a beautiful manner. Whether shown through music, the recurrence of the colour red, or through the film’s clever use of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Deepa Mehta evokes a wonderful sense of freedom in Arjie’s character.
Although the film follows Arjie, Funny Boy focuses on multiple subjects throughout its 109 minute screen time, in particular the treatment of the Tamil people, arranged marriage, class, and the moral ambiguity surrounding militant groups. Seemingly each subject presented through other characters; class shown through Arjie’s parents, militant groups shown through a friend of Arjie’s family, and arranged marriage shown through Arjie’s Aunt Rahda. Although the choice to tackle such subjects is respectable, and each is presented well, the ever-changing focus of the film’s narrative creates a messy style of storytelling that causes the impact of each to depreciate. Certain characters, relationships, situations losing the impact that they could have had.
Despite much of the problems with the film’s screenplay Deepa Mahta helms the project well from behind the camera, using excellent pacing in order to create an enjoyable film that flies by whilst also working as a poignant coming of age story.
Although Funny Boy has just as many weaknesses as it does strengths it remains an enjoyable watch that many will find relatable, filled with charismatic performances and excellent directing. Funny Boy might not make it to the Oscars but it is a fine piece of storytelling that is worth the viewers time.
While the film tells the story of the oppression of the Tamil people, little to no Tamil actors were cast in the film and the Tamil dialect spoken in the film is not Sri Lankan Tamil. This lack of diversity amongst the cast caused controversy due to the war crimes committed against the Tamil people before, and during, the civil war.
Although the story itself is told well on screen, it is important to keep the history of the civil war, as well as the production of the film, in mind when watching.
Dir: Deepa Mehta
Scr: Deepa Mehta, Shyam Selvadurai
Cast: Rehan Mudannayake, Arush Nand, Brandon Ingram, Nimmi Harasgama, Ali Kazmi, Agam Darshi, Seema Biswas, Shivantha Wijesinha
Prd: David Hamilton
DOP: Douglas Koch
Music: Howard Shore
Runtime: 109 minutes
Funny Boy is available to view on Netflix now