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Boys Don't Cry

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Boys Don't Cry

Starring: Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny
Director: Kimberly Peirce
Rated: R
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: October 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alicia Goranson, Alison Folland, Matt McGrath

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

A colleague of mine loved the Walt Disney production of "The Straight Story" because, he said, this was the first movie he ever saw about Midwesterners that showed them a proper respect. Of course a film needs more than a respectful consideration of its subjects, however stereotyped they may be in real life, but that deference to the Ralph Farnsworth character and everyone he meets on the road from Iowa to Wisconsin did it for him.

If the converse is true, than this associate of mine would turn thumbs down on "Boys Don't Cry," based on a real story of horror which took place during the early 1990s in the state of Nebraska. The beer-swilling, chain-smoking, white-trash personalities who dominate the tale are enough to drive anyone insane and leave no one immune to their psychological and physical abuse. "Boys Don't Cry," which opened to rave reviews at the '99 New York Film Festival, is an unusual film, one with the qualities of fine acting and a sincere, realistic approach to the its morbid subject matter, but somehow the pieces do not coalesce into an engaging film. Overlong at almost two hours, this story deals with a woman pretending to be a man, and if it were comic to the slightest degree we could say it had Shakespearean undertones. "Boys Don't Cry" is largely melodramatic, its director averse to slipping in a moment of comic relief. At the helm, Kimberly Peirce does a swell job highlighting the troubles of a person seeking inner peace and freedom who does knows the popular movie expression "Let's get out of here," but seems unable to follow the advice. But the central character does not evoke the pity she should from the audience despite the Oscar-caliber performance that Hilary Swank puts into her. Somehow, her murder leaves us cold, not so much because she is too naive, too obtuse to sense the danger she is in, but because she comes across as a person that only a mother (and, in this case, just two other characters) could love.

Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), who appears in virtually every scene, is a young woman who is physically attracted to other women, yet insists that she is not a lesbian. This insight could be a valid one: she does not consider herself to be a woman at all. While paying lip service to the psychological label "sexual identity crisis," she is simply a man in a woman's body, and one day, leaving the young man who cares for her and has allowed her to sleep in his home, she cut her hair short leaving a cute cowlick over her forehead, tapes her breasts tightly and inserts a sock into her undergarments. Changing her name minimally from Teena Brandon to Brandon Teena, she leaves Lincoln, Nebraska and in one instance in a speeding car almost literally flies in the face of her newfound freedom. Meeting up with some white trash in the backwoods of Nebraska, she is attracted to the delicate teen, Lana (Chloe Sevigny) who reciprocates Brandon's love, and in one erotic scene Brandon seems to convince the young woman that she is having sex with a man.

Ultimately, the confused Brandon is raped and murdered by a pair of sociopathic backwoodsmen, John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom (Brendan Sexton III)--who play their roles to the villainous hilt as men who are incensed that Brandon had lied to them daily. Still, the script--written by director Peirce together with Andy Bienen--does not clarify the motives for the murder. Are they repelled by Brandon's seduction of Lana? Are they furious that they were themselves compatriots of a lesbian and felt dishonored by the prevarication?

"Boys Don't Cry," then, is one of those movies in which all the qualities of fine cinema are present. The ensemble acting is splendid, the murder gruesomely portrayed, the lovemaking unaffected. What nullifies these attributes is our inability to feel much for a pitiful victim who, if properly moneyed with a supportive family could have easily solved her sexual identity problem with plastic surgery.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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