Monday, September 19, 2011

Boys Don't Cry

Directed by Kimberly Peirce.
1999. Rated R, 116 minutes.

Hilary Swank
Chloë Sevigny
Peter Sarsgaard
Brandon Sexton III
Alicia Goranson
Alison Folland
Jeanetta Arnette
Rob Campbell
Matt McGrath

Right away, we find out the one thing in Brandon’s (Swank) life that has caused him the most problems. He is really a she name Teena. Determined to live and pass as a man, this behavior is mostly an issue when whatever girl he’s dating finds out his secret. This is usually followed by Brandon being chased and/or beaten by a group of the girl’s male relatives and friends. It doesn’t look like a fun existence, but Brandon seems bound to keep repeating the cycle. It also appears this way to Brandon’s cousin Lonny (McGrath). Lonny eventually becomes tired of all the drama and decides that Brandon can no longer stay with him in his trailer. With nowhere to go, Brandon falls in with a crowd of ruffians led by John (Sarsgaard). They whisk Brandon away from his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska to Falls City about an hour away. Shortly, he meets Lana (Sevigny), the girl of his dreams. Based on a true story. To say Brandon is confused or sick is a matter of opinion and belief.

To say Brandon’s deceitful and misguided is fact. His insistence on keeping up a lie at the expense of the emotions of others would normally make him totally unlikeable. Thanks to a masterful performance by Hilary Swank and a very well written script, this isn’t the case. Those of us who haven’t gone through the same struggle probably won’t be in love with Brandon. However, we begin to understand and gain empathy. We admire his courage in some areas while simultaneously lamenting his lack of it in others. To facilitate this, Swank mixes the wild enthusiasm of a child in a candy story with the same child’s fear of being caught stealing. We understand both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.

As well as we come to know Brandon, he’s not the only person we feel for. Our hearts also go out to Lana. She wants us to think she’s tough, that she can handle whatever comes her way. Eventually, we come to realize that not only is she not such a tough nut, but she’s a perpetual victim. She’s a victim of her mother’s carelessness and of the affections of others, including Brandon. Though less heralded, Chloë Sevigny’s performance is no less effective than Swank’s. The surprise is that after this and other critically acclaimed portrayals early in her career, Sevigny hasn’t quite reached the level of stardom she seemed destined to.

Boys Don’t Cry is a movie that asks us to examine the characters on the screen and ourselves, as well. It holds our beliefs up to the light and gives us a look at them we might not have taken. For some, the protagonist will pose a challenge. Brandon is an affront to all they believe. Will they be able to see passed sexuality and into humanity? This is also a fascinating drama that gives us a ride on an emotional roller coaster. After all the climbs, drops and loops we are entertained and drained.

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