BOYS DON'T CRY
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard,
Brendan Sexton III
Director: Kimberly Pierce
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Audio Commentary, Trailers, TV Spots, Featurette
Length: 116 Minutes
Release Date: April 18, 2000
Falls City, Nebraska
one of the characters in Boys Dont Cry neatly dismisses it: it aint even on the map. Because of the events of this film, that little
place nestled seemingly in the middle of nowhere would
make the map, and become spotlit in our national conscience. It was a town that seemed like paradise to one who
fell in love there, so much so that there was no hope of picking up on the warnings of
just how quickly paradise would become a tragic nightmare.
First of all, I have no desire to throw any more fuel on the recent
controversies surrounding the picture. For
the sake of making it easier to write (and hopefully to read), and based solely on the way
the movie chose to focus, I will use the masculine pronouns in my review, and refer to the
protagonist as Brandon Teena, the identity he chose for himself.
When we first see Brandon (Swank), he has finished getting his hair
cut short. Hes wearing mens
clothes, and seems both liberated and delighted by the loss of his born identity, that of
a young woman named Teena Brandon. And it
takes only a few moments of film time for the audience to learn that Brandon is a person
of great passion, but not a lot of common sense to go with it. A group of angry guys surround his house,
screaming and cursing and breaking out the windows. They
discovered his secret, and are none to keen about having been party to such a deception,
particularly since Brandon had made off with a few of their girlfriends.
Either not understanding the danger he puts himself in, or not
caring, he soon hooks up with some new friends, who take him out of his hometown of
Lincoln and into Falls City. They party, they
bond, and soon, hes just another one of them. He
even falls in love with the beautiful Lana (Sevigny), and convinces himself that it could
be perfect between them, despite some obvious complications.
Brandon doesnt see the hot water hes in, though all the
clues are there. John (Sarsgaard) is an
ex-con who lived on letters Lana wrote to him during his incarceration. He cant control his impulses,
and it doesnt take long for him to demonstrate that somethings seriously out
of kilter with him. His friend Tom (Sexton)
has an odd fascination with fire and self mutilation.
But Brandons love for Lana seems to blind him to everything but her.
In one of the films most strangely beautiful scenes, he and
Lana make love under the night sky, and this is intercut with sequences of Lana afterwards
dreamily telling her girlfriends about it. Brandon
seems skillful enough to keep his secret hidden. At
first. But there are strange moments of
revelation, for lack of a better word. Does
Lana know the truth? How much? Is she reaching a point where she no longer cares?
But the best kept secrets eventually begin to come to light, and when
they do, the movie becomes like a cold, dark, downward spiral with no bottom. Things go quickly from bad to worse, and
Brandons world begins to come apart. Those
he thought were his friends shame and humiliate him.
Lanas mother, whom he even addressed as mom, suddenly cant
see a human being anymore, opting for the disgusting pronoun it.
And John and Tom feel something worse has happened than simply being
fooled. Their manhood was challenged, and
they avenge their pride in the most horrid and despicable way imaginable. One of the most heartbreaking moments for me is
when a weary, battered Brandon sits between her two assailants and says, Its
my fault. It doesnt get
the cops she goes to for protection are less interested in the rape than in
why she would choose to masquerade as a boy.
And so the film asks us, in none-too-subtle ways, by exactly what
standard are we willing to measure our compassion for another person? Is there enough room in our hearts to embrace the
differences between us, or are our minds too narrow?
Brandon Teenas murder rang out with that question, and it is still echoing
out there, searching for its answer.
Youve no doubt heard the tremendous accolades bestowed upon
Hilary Swank for her performance as the gender bending Brandonaward after award,
including the Golden Globe and the Oscar. I
can sum up her performance in a single word: courage. Its almost unfathomable how demanding a role
this was for an actress, both mentally and physically, requiring not only a convincing
visual transformation but a willingness to harness deep heartache and confusion, and to
expose it in front of the world in the most vulnerable way possible. Ms. Swank is extraordinary in every aspect, and
this is a performance you wont forget. Special
mention must also go to Chloe Sevigny as Lana, a role replete with its own complications. Her sincerity is perfect, and helps to bring about
the right emotional mix for the story.
I first saw this film theatrically, and when I did, one aspect held
me back from considering it a four star movie
I was disappointed that the essential
Brandon remained something of an enigma, and that no attempts were made by the filmmakers
to delve into what it was that made him decide not only to play the part of a boy, but to
live it. So much of his past was left in a
murky haze of broken exposition, I felt like the picture had squandered an opportunity, to
put this life upon the screen and yet, remain so distant from important parts of it. The film celebrated Brandons life as that of
one who had the courage to be true to himself without questioning what it was that made
him who he was. But the real life mother of
Brandon has since argued that the movie missed a crucial point, that Teena became Brandon
as a means of self preservation after suffering a terrible sexual assault in her
certainly nothing romantic about that.
Watching it a second time, I began to realize that the movie was
never about why Brandon was, but simply who Brandon was.
And watching the interrogation scene again, I couldnt help but think that the
first time around, I had missed the point as much as the officers had. Brandon was a human being, not a conversation
piece. He had his secrets, his pains, his
fears, like we all do
and those things he kept to himself, and eventually took with
Im happy to report that Fox made good with an anamorphic
transfer for this title. The video quality is
surprisingly good, considering many low budget films tend to show their monetary
limitations in the technical departments. Images
are sharp and crisp throughout, with no noticeable grain or break-up. Colors are always natural looking and well
rendered, with no bleeding, and under various lighting schemes, take on just the right
shades and tones to enhance the mood. I saw
this movie on the big screen, and I think it looks even better on DVD.
This Dolby 5.1 track seems an excellent reproduction of the
which is to say, there were only sparing uses of the surround
speakers and .1 channel. Most of the action
takes place with a good, detailed spread across the front, and the films excellent
song score bring out most of the dynamics in the audio.
There are a few moments when the sound really opens up, like the strange car chase
down the dusty night road, and a few instances of harsh and ugly crowd confrontations. This isnt meant to be the most
overwhelmingly theatrical listening experience, but for what it is, there are no
The disc contains a commentary track with director Amy Pierce, a very
short featurette, and two each of trailers and TV spots.
Boys Dont Cry is a true story that comes across almost as quietly surreal because of the inherent sadness, but remains grounded by the aspects of human nature that are the most repugnant, and often, far too real. It is a superb accomplishment anchored by an astonishing lead performance and supporting cast. It will be remembered as one of the best films of the 90s.