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Boys Don't Cry
DOWSE Guide to the
by Tony Lee editor of
Boys Don't Cry
directed by Kimberly Peirce
118 minutes (18)
aspect ratio: 1.85:1
review by Gary Couzens
In the early 1990s, Teena Brandon (Hilary Swank) cut her
hair, bound her breasts and disguised herself as a boy, named Brandon Teena.
Finding 'himself' in the dead-end Falls City, Nebraska, Brandon falls in with
a crowd of white-trash dropouts including John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom
(Brendan Sexton III), and teenager Lana (Chloe Sevigny). Brandon and Lana
fall in love and start a relationship, but when Brandon's true identity is
discovered the consequences are tragic. A true story.
Much has been made of Hilary Swank's performance in the lead role, which
rightly won almost every award going, including the Oscar. With her strong
jawline, she easily convinces as a boy, though her lack of stubble makes her
look younger than the 21 s/he's meant to be. (Her only previous lead was in
the title part of The Next Karate Kid, though she made her debut in
the film of Buffy The Vampire Slayer.) And even more importantly, she
makes us at least partly understand Brandon's dilemma, so gives a performance
over and above the technical feat of gender disguise. Chloe Sevigny is just
as good in a less showy role. Sarsgaard and Sexton effectively demonstrate
how resentment and intolerance can easily explode into violence.
Lana could be seen as a dupe, but it's clear early on that she knows the truth,
but wills it otherwise. Gender, the film suggests, is something that can be
constructed, or willed. Despite the evidence of her eyes, to Lana, Brandon is
a boy and nothing else. Brandon seems to spend much of the time putting himself
into danger, but perhaps that is what he sees masculinity as: drinking, getting
into fights, chasing girls, recklessness.
Director Kimberly Peirce makes a virtue of an obvious low budget, giving the
film a slightly tacky neon-lit look. Time-lapse shots of cars passing are
occasionally gimmicky, but add to the sense of characters trapped while the
world goes past around them. There are many who will find the film's subject
matter uncomfortable to start with, and a couple of scenes in the last half
hour are almost too harrowing to watch. But those who can stay the course will
be rewarded with a compassionate, fascinating and deeply moving experience.
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