In New York City's Harlem circa 1987, an overweight, abused, illiterate teen who is pregnant with her second child is invited to enroll in an alternative school in hopes that her life can head in a new direction.
Based on actual events. Brandon Teena is the popular new guy in a tiny Nebraska town. He hangs out with the guys, drinking, cussing, and bumper surfing, and he charms the young women, who've never met a more sensitive and considerate young man. Life is good for Brandon, now that he's one of the guys and dating hometown beauty Lana; however, he's forgotten to mention one important detail. It's not that he's wanted in another town for GTA and other assorted crimes, but that Brandon Teena was actually born a woman named Teena Brandon. When his best friends make this discovery, Brandon's life is ripped apart. Written by
Unflinchingly honest, disturbing, and heart-breaking
I was stunned by the simplicity and power of this fine film. It tells the true and tragic story of Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena, a woman living as a man in a small town in Nebraska. No matter what your personal opinions may be, this film does not preach. It tells the story in a matter-of-fact, honest and gritty way, but leaves you shaking your head in shock that such anger and hatred exists in these modern times, for someone who is "different" merely because of their sexual preference.
Relative newcomer Hilary Swank gives a heartfelt and courageous performance as Brandon. I say courageous not only because of the subject matter, but also because she is able to strip away her youthful, movie star glamour and become the character she plays. She is entirely convincing. Also, she shows a tremendous amount of guts for being able to get through the gut-wrenchingly violent rape scene. This was a brave choice, and a wise one.
Chloe Sevigny plays Lana, the girl Brandon loves. She is the only person who truly understands Brandon. Brandon finds himself in a world of drunken trailer trash and convicted felons. No one is free from guilt, but there is always the unspoken sin of being different. Hilary Swank and Chloe Sevigny play their tastefully erotic love scenes without seeming self-conscious. So many actors of their generation might be afraid to tackle these types of roles, but they do their jobs with aplomb.
The film was another that haunted me the day after seeing it. Kimberly Peirce manages to make a simple film about a very difficult subject, and she doesn't resort to Hollywood gloss or preachiness. It is a risky film, very difficult to watch in places, with several very violent and disturbing scenes. It is a story that needs to be told, and with the two Oscar-nominated performances from Ms. Swank and Ms. Sevigny, it succeeds.
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