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Boys Don't Cry

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All-Reviews.com 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 Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

Like the recent Ma Vie En Rose, Boys Don't Cry is a confronting and disturbing, but compelling look at a confused teenager who chooses to live life on their own terms, contrary to the accepted norms of the larger society around them.

Boys Don't Cry tells the true story of Teena Brandon, a disaffected, tomboyish teenage girl from Nebraska, suffering from a serious crisis of sexual identity. She switched genders to live life as a boy, and was eventually murdered by a couple of bigoted, homophobic thugs. Wrapping her breasts in bandages, stuffing a sock down the front of her jeans, and calling herself Brandon, she moved away from her hometown of Lincoln, in the conservative heartland of America's midwest. Arriving in nearby Falls City, Brandon begins her new life as a boy, a sort of rebel without a penis.

A bar room brawl leads to a friendship with Candace (Alicia Goranson) and Kate (Allison Folland, from All Over Me, etc), and ex-cons John (Peter Sarsgaard, from Dead Man Walking, etc) and Tom (Brendan Sexton III, from Hurricane Streets, etc). Brandon fabricates details about his past life, which are at first accepted by his new friends.

But it is the lonely and insecure Lana (Chloe Sevigny, from Kids, etc), who dreams of becoming a famous karaoke singer, with whom Brandon develops a relationship. Desperate for affection, Lana allows the relationship to develop without question, even when John and Tom grow suspicious about Brandon. When Brandon's true identity and secret is revealed, fear and ignorance give way to unthinking hatred and violence.

In exploring the hypocrisy of modern America, the white trash of America's midwest, and larger questions about troubled youth and sexual identity, this bleak and confronting film also occupies the same seedy cinematic territory as Welcome To The Dollhouse and the repellent Gummo. In some ways Boys Don't Cry is a depressing and grim film, but it is also surprisingly rewarding and inspiring. This is evident through the compassionate treatment of the difficult subject matter and the occasionally sympathetic view of the sometimes uglier elements of human behaviour.

For first time feature director Kimberly Peirce this has been something of a labour of love, and she spent five years researching the story and getting inside the character. Peirce draws uniformly strong performances from her ensemble cast, comprising some of the finest young actors working in the American independent film scene.

Hilary Swank, best known for her role in the forgettable The Next Karate Kid, has attracted a swag of accolades and awards for her sensational and virtuoso performance here. She beautifully captures Brandon's androgynous quality, vividly portraying both the brooding masculinity, the boyish swagger and the chiselled good looks, as well as the more vulnerable elements of this complex and contradictory character. Sevigny is sublime as the trusting Lana, and delivers a moving and memorable performance. Sexton, cast against type, and Sarsgaard effectively capture the latent violence lurking just below the surface of their characters.

Boys Don't Cry is not a film that will sit comfortably with everyone. Peirce deliberately sets out to elicit a response from the audience, and she succeeds. Boys Don't Cry is one film that occupies your mind days after having seen it.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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