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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 UK Critic
3½ stars out of 4

"Boys Don't Cry" is a harsh and penetrating study of heartland America, powerful enough to earn comparison with "At Close Range" and "The Onion Field", two brilliant deliberately messy films about emotional devastation. Its early scenes inspire impatience -- they don't seem to be going anywhere, and nothing is happening. Then we realise that's the point, and that is astonishingly moving.

The film tells the true story of Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), a guy from Nebraska who was actually a girl named Teena Brandon in drag. This is not someone merely uncomfortable with his real gender; he's a rolling stone in every respect, moving from town to town, mixing with different gangs, constantly getting into fights and trouble with the law. He's also forced to move on whenever people discover he's not a real 'he', because people are always enraged by the deception.

Near the beginning of the movie, Brandon becomes determined to find stability among a band of white trash buddies from Falls City, because he falls in love at first sight with one of their number, the beautiful Lana (Chle Sevigny). Most of this group are sad, lonely people with no prospects, who try to distract themselves into thinking they're doing something with their lives by filling their nights with loud, boozy bravado. Lana doesn't do anything more purposeful, but she is a quieter, more peaceful creature, who seems more aware of the rut she's in. Brandon is a meek, reserved presence as well, and he and Lana get involved in private moments that are quiet enough to allow them to talk. Finally they've each found someone to discuss their dreams with.

Does Lana know that Brandon is really a girl? Probably not, although when she finds out, it doesn't seem to matter to her, and she does her best to keep the fact from her pals. She's in love, and doesn't want to see the beauty of that crushed, even though it's inevitable that it will be, considering the terrible world that she inhabits. We can tell that Lana's ex-boyfriend John (Peter Sarsgaard), a jealous bully with violent mood swings, will eventually find out about Brandon's secret, and of course there will then be tragic consequences.

That's what "Boys Don't Cry" is about -- how it's impossible to lead lives of peace, meaning or value in an atmosphere like the one the film is set in. Everyone grows up miserable and confused, and then gets punished for being that way. Brandon had no option but to live a lie, Lana couldn't help but loving him, and John did not choose to be brought up in an environment of bigotry and rage... but their fates have been sealed at birth, and there can be no happy endings.

The actors give this startling intimacy. Nobody seems to be playing to the camera -- they simply live in their characters' shoes, in the midst of a meandering story structure, and then find themselves stuck, as things spiral out of control. No other film I've seen has made the problems of white trash Americans so real to me. This is not one of those movies where some slutty single mom goes across country to find herself, and the audience couldn't care less. It is desperate, gritty and animalistic, and by its end there were tears in my eyes, because all over America people are living and dying like this, and they are trapped, and will be for a long time to come.

Copyright 2000 UK Critic

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