Based on his short I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, director Daniel Ribeiro’s coming-of-age feature debut, The Way He Looks, has the feel of those 1980s teen flicks, like My Bodyguard or a beloved John Hughes film. Mind you, it doesn’t have any quirky slapstick or an eclectic pop-rock soundtrack. What it does have are great young actors who pull the viewer into the simple and tender story.
Leonardo (Ghilherme Lobo) is a teenaged boy with wavy, brown locks (he’s as cute as a puppy) who longs to be independent, leave his home in São Paulo and travel the world. Blind since birth, Leonardo mixes in just fine at school (save for a few non-threatening bullies). His best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), is a tall and languid young woman who speaks her mind and likes to call their friend Karina a slut.
Giovana is awesome. Like clockwork, she walks Leonardo home from school every day, asking him for his keys so she can open the gate to his home. They have a routine.
At home, Leonardo continually tests his loving yet overly protective parents. He doesn’t really do anything wrong except lean back too far in his chair, blast his beloved Beethoven or ask if he can study abroad. Mom won’t have any of it; Dad may just cave.
One day, a new boy shows up in class. The teacher tells him to sit behind Leonardo. His name is Gabriel (Fabio Audi), and he has a face like an angel, a head full of dark curly hair and big pretty eyes that rival Bambi’s. Giovana is smitten and so is Leonardo.
When the teacher assigns Leonardo to work with Gabriel on a project, the boys start to get to know each other: they dance to Belle and Sebastian, watch an eclipse and have an innocent yet very sexy shower scene. There’s some Giovana drama, a game of spin the bottle and a touching ending that is simple yet incredibly powerful. Yes, the script is full of clichés, but it all works, with its precise editing and many quiet, intimate moments between characters.