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1 item from 1999

Film review: 'Boys Don't Cry'

3 September 1999 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Adapting a chilling story previously explored in a feature-length documentary and a John Gregory Dune New Yorker article, Kimberly Peirce's debut film "Boys Don't Cry" never sensationalizes material that could easily be rendered strange or perverse. Working with a strong cast and gifted collaborators, Peirce transcends the story's tabloid nature to investigate fully its emotional, sexual and class underpinnings.

Premiering in the Venice Film Festival's Cinema of the Present sidebar, preceding festival showings in Toronto and New York, Fox Searchlight's well-acted, exceedingly well-made film should strike a chord among young filmgoers eager to search out substantial, difficult works.

The movie has dead spots, and Peirce can't always shape the narrative. (It feels a bit extended at nearly two hours.) But Peirce's nonjudgmental feel for character and social milieu creates depth and completeness.

Like Spike Lee's "Summer of Sam", the film examines the social and emotional hysteria resulting from unconventional sexual role-playing. Set in 1993, mostly in the forlorn, stripped-down landscapes of Falls City, Neb., the film unwinds the incredible story of "Brandon Teena", a physically frail though sexually confident 21-year-old who casually falls in with a group of disaffected outsiders and thrill seekers -- finding excitement, romance and a stronger, more-assured identity. But once the facade and self-invention are revealed, the story ends tragically.

What Peirce never attempts to hide is that the young Lothario's actual identity is that of Teena Brandon, a sexually distraught, emotionally fractured 19-year-old woman. Her ability to change, projecting an entirely different personality as Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank), draws her into a relationship with Lana (Chloe Sevigny), a beautiful though equally confused, emotionally needy young woman.

Peirce is particularly strong revealing how the characters' urges for emotional stability are expressed through physical action, including a dangerous stunt on the back of a truck, outracing a cop car and singing at a karaoke bar.

As evidence of Brandon's identity accumulates, Lana refuses to acknowledge the obvious. Then reality intrudes in a bleak way.

The cast is remarkable. Swank loses herself in the knotted role of Brandon and conveys her pain wonderfully. Sevigny is an extraordinarily vivid presence. Peter Sarsgaard and, in a smaller role, Brendan Sexton III, are impressive.

Jim Denault's sharp photography and Peirce's free-associative imagery capture the quiet desperation entrapping the characters.


Fox Searchlight

Producers: Jeffrey Sharp, John Hart, Eva Kolodner, Christine Vachon

Director-screenwriter: Kimberly Peirce

Screenwriter: Andy Bienen

Director of photography: Jim Denault

Editors: Lee Percy, Tracy Granger

Production designer: Michael Shaw

Costume designer: Victoria Farrell

Music: Nathan Larsen



Brandon Teena: Hilary Swank

Lana: Chloe Sevigny

John: Peter Sarsgaard

Tom: Brendan Sexton III

Kate: Alison Folland

Candace: Alicia Goranson

Lana's mom: Jeannetta Arnette

Running time -- 114 minutes

No MPAA rating


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