Boys Don't Cry

Date:    February 18, 2000


Brandon Teena - Hilary Swank
Lana Tisdel - Chloe Sevigny
John - Peter Sarsgaard
Tom - Brendan Sexton III
Candace - Alicia Goransen

Director: Kimberly Peirce

I would like to share my initial impressions, based on what I slowly learned and discovered about this movie. Upon seeing the title, I was hearkened back to my 80s music love, since the title is from an upbeat, yet deeply message laden Cure song. Then, I discovered that it starred Hilary Swank, previously known for a turn on the small screen on 90210, and the large screen in The Next Karate Kid. I was not impressed yet. Then, I learned the plot, a tale of a girl, pretending to be a boy, who moves to a small town in Nebraska, and what ensues when sexual confusion meets Ma and Pa Cornhusker. It sounded like a cheesy TV-movie of the week to say the least. However, as the critical reviews and raves began rolling in, I was flabbergasted at the accolades being tossed around. What could be so good about a movie with a campy plot, a no-name actress, and a catchy 80s tune title? Well dear reader, that is what I am here to tell you, because this is a movie experience not to be missed.

In simplest terms, Boys Don’t Cry is a character study, held together by its atmosphere and surroundings. These are well written and well-acted characters, who become a part of you without you even realizing it. Why? If you have ever lived in or been through a small town you'll realize that you know these people. You have seen them, met them, maybe even talked to them. After you see this movie, you may even relate to them more than you thought you would have. You will become woven into the plot, just as Brandon becomes interwoven into the small town. You just don’t realize how deep until it's almost over. The stereotypical small town plays like the Real World comes to the Heartland.

Since it is a character study, its success falls onto the shoulders of its performers, and they ably carry it above and beyond its campy premise. Leading the pack of course, is Hilary Swank, who is every bit as good as the hype you’ve heard..and better. She bares her soul, among other things, in an intense, brutal, and sometimes painful to watch performance that will have you looking twice at her, in more ways than just her masculine resemblance. Needless to say, you will forget you’re looking at a she, and believe in Brandon, just as he became absorbed in and believed himself.

Following closely behind Swank is Chloe Sevigny as his "girlfriend," who really is the glue that holds the movie together. Were it not for her emotionally powerful performance, this would indeed have slipped a few levels into a bad CBS Sunday Night At the Movies. She is at times, desperate, lonely, slightly na´ve, searching for love, finding it, and becoming blinded and intertwined in its power and passion. Together, Swank and Sevigny create one the most memorable screen duos of the 90s that you will remember long after the lights come up. Supporting them, is a cast of strong, well-written realistic people, in good and bad, but real situations. All around, the mood and atmosphere here is set by the people who reside in it.

The plot and story here could have easily degraded into something incredibly predictable, maudlin and over-the-top in its preachiness. Instead, Peirce walks that line, running right up to it, teasing it, but never crossing it. There are very deep stereotypes that could’ve been exploited, such as sexual confusion lesbianism, transsexuality, homosexuality, prejudice, suburban naivetÚ, small town isolation, etc. She intelligently tackles these issues with the deft touch of a veteran filmmaker. She gains her credibility by never trying to intentionally hammer a message home, but rather subtly letting the reality and power of the events and people convey that message, and then letting you digest it. Upon initial reflection, I had a problem with the flow of the story. I thought it was choppy and uneven. After some thought, I realized that this was due to the fact that the story and people were done realistically. Life does not always flow smoothly, and fit into a nice neat little package. Hollywood sometimes feels the need to make everything follow a nice neat outline, with a beginning, a middle and end with logical steps in between. This forces realism to sometimes be sacrificed at some point. (i.e. The Hurricane) Peirce has made a movie that has a beginning, and an end, but takes a rough road to get there. This journey shows that you can tell a story, as without adding fluff or exaggeration, in order to make it entertaining.

Ultimately, Boys Don’t Cry is a movie that will reach inside you, and weave itself into your being without you realizing it. You will leave the theater deeply affected by your initial reaction, but still thinking. Once you look closer and realize what you have seen, the power and intensity of it all will truly hit you. It is a sad, but true look, into society’s darker side, that should be illuminated in this manner more often. As is the case with The Hurricane, the truth may have been skewered a bit to make the story. However I suggest that you read up, and learn about Brandon Teena, and make your judgments based upon what you find out, not just wholly upon the movie itself.  It never asks you to judge, just understand what happened, but on your terms.  Regardless of its accuracy, Boys Don’t Cry is still a wonderfully told, painful to watch story, and a movie experience that you will not soon forget. Take this movie for what it is; a story of discovery and searching for who you are.  If you want the gospel truth, it's out there, find it.  Movies are not necessarily historical documents, but rather interpretations, hence the "Based on a True Story" moniker attached.   Heed this and take it to heart, as you should this movie.

. ($$$1/2 out of $$$$)

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