The Way He Looks is a coming of age story without the coming, a bildungsroman with a bit too much dung. It’s got a great setup and some interesting characters, but proves, ultimately, to be quite toothless. That’s fine for a blowjob, but not so good for a film that wants to be about something.
In this case, that something is mop-haired high school student Leonardo. Born blind, he’s helped by his best friend Giovana. Not that he needs much help; he’s doggedly independent. With his cane, he has no problem walking places, and his braille typewriter helps him take notes in class. Giovana is there mostly as his confidante, and to help him placate his ridiculously overprotective parents. How overprotective? Well, he looks to be about sixteen or seventeen, and only recently was able to negotiate being allowed home alone after school. Que irritante!
One day, a new student enters the classroom. This is Gabriel, lissom and floppily handsome. Not that Leonardo notices, being blind and all. But he and Gabriel do spark a friendship; as the pair work on class projects and hang out after school, Giovana starts to feel like a third wheel.
I really do hate to be very spoiler-y in reviews, but it’s obvious about ten minutes after Gabriel’s introduction that he and Leonardo are going to end up together. As director and scenarist Daniel Ribeiro sets his stage and characters, this ending is never in doubt, not even for a moment. Consequently, there is no suspense, no tension—just the endless frustration the audience feels waiting for the inevitable to happen.
Frankly, I wish Ribeiro had just dispensed with his female characters all together. Not because they’re women, of course, but because they serve literally no purpose in the narrative except to temporarily, unrealistically keep Leonardo and Gabriel from their eventual Stanley Cup in Tonsil Hockey. Giovana becomes jealous of the pair and gives them the silent treatment; since her character isn’t developed and most of her dialogue is just complaining, I found this a welcome respite and not at all troublesome. (Unfortunately, she did begin to talk again.) There’s another female character whose name I forget, but she’s only there to (briefly) deceive Leonardo into wondering if Gabriel might be dtf the 🐈.
I learn that Ribeiro adapted The Way He Looks from a short film he made. Clearly, he was uninterested in exploring the story, and simply attempted to expand what he’d already produced. His film ends just when it starts to get interesting: A fellow student has been ribbing the boys because their relationship seemed, well, a little gay. So when he sees Gabriel leading Leonardo home by the arm, he says something like, ‘Hey! How are the boyfriends doing?’ because hahahahaha. Then, Leo lets go of Gabe’s arm and takes his hand instead. Oh, we’re just fine, thanks.
Yeah, good for them, but shouldn’t the relationship have been explored after all that buildup? Leonardo’s parents have been helicoptering over him the whole time; now that he has a significant other, how are they going to deal with losing that much more control? Leo spent the whole movie trying to assert his independence from anyone else; now that he has a boyfriend, will he be able to give a little of that up, like you need to in a relationship? I guess we’ll never know unless we get a sequel, The Way He Uses Echolocation to Map His Environment.
While The Way He Looks is frustrating and incomplete, let me now mention the film’s biggest asset: actor Ghilherme Lobo as Leonardo. This guy has the ‘it’ factor; he could be an international superstar if he plays his cards right. Watching him is like watching a young DiCaprio, and I’m not just saying that because his character’s name is Leonardo. He has a radiant and magnetic screen presence, affectless but seething with emotion. Imagine a male, Brazilian Michelle Williams. He is so good here, I actually believed the entire time that Ribeiro had hired a blind actor! Nope; it’s just raw talent.
The Way He Looks is on an awful streaming service beginning with the letter ’N’. I can’t really recommend it, not wholeheartedly. But if you’re so inclined, and decide to watch it anyway… as someone who considers cinema sacrosanct, I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I’d recommend you fast forward over some of the later scenes with Giovana and Other Girl Whose Name I Don’t Remember And Didn’t Bother To Look Up. Or, just skip whenever Ghilherme Lobo isn’t on the screen. I sure felt like doing so, but managed to restrain myself in the name of Film. You’re welcome.