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"Who the hell is Hilary Swank?" was the question on the lips of us reviewers as we staggered out of Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry. Swank's previous appearances in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Next Karate Kid -- yeah, well, I've only sat through one of 'em -- were no indication of the depth of this girl's ability. Neither of them gave us any reason to remember the name.
Now we have a reason to remember it.
Boys Don't Cry is one of those movies that tend to show up in Oscar® season, the truly unpleasant story meant to push all the buttons that will leave you shaking when you walk out of the theater. 99% of 'em are emotionally manipulative crap. The remaining one percent do what the great films are supposed to do -- make you care about characters that you otherwise wouldn't think twice about and make you react honestly when the whip comes down. Boys Don't Cry makes it into the one percent.
That being said, I'll make it crystal clear: Boys Don't Cry is not a feel-good flick. It is not a popcorn flick or a nice-way-to-kill-time dateflick. It's not a dateflick in the way we use the phrase at all. It is the true story of a case of mixed up sexual identity in the Heartland and the all too sobering, brutal results -- so brutal the teevee critic sitting in front of me covered his eyes. My use of the term "mixed up sexual identity" doesn't mean this is a "gay" flick in any sense of the word. Kimberly Peirce and Andy Bienen's script hides nothing from you at any time. And it goes like this . . .
Welcome to the town of Falls City, Nebraska. The twentysomethings we meet sleep all day and get blotto before most of 'em pack off to work at the spinach packing plant or the local bar. John Lotter (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom Nissen (Brendan Sexton III) don't do much of anything except steal cars or get drunk or start fights at the bar. Their friend Candace (Alicia Goranson) is a single mom who works behind the bar when she's not in front of it, seeking out a potential new husband. Other friend Lana (Chloë Sevigny) prefers being blotto, or the object of John's attention while her mom (Jeannetta Arnette) rides herd over the whole group. On a roadtrip to Lincoln, Candace picks up Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) a young man with fine features who will, eventually and quite innocently enough, steal Lana's heart from John. Brandon finds new friends in Falls City. He finds cameraderie and a job and meets someone he can fall in love with; who appears to return the attention.
What we know from the start is that Brandon is Teena, a girl. When confronted, with trembling lips she will say that she is a hermaphrodite, born with deformed sexual organs. Too dirt poor to do anything other than dream about sexual reassignment surgery, she has cut off her hair, stuffed a stock down her briefs and ventured out into the world. To the surprise of everyone, Brandon does the guy thing better than most of the male gender.
The conflict is obvious. Sooner or later someone is going to find out. Which is where we stop to talk about the supporting performances of Alicia Goranson (recognizable from a long run on TV's Roseanne), Chloë Sevigny and Peter Sarsgaard, whose character's emotional centers are shredded by the discovery and whose reactions cover the full spectrum. There is sex, but it isn't sexy or gratuitous. There is anger and there is acceptance. There is rage and there is revenge. There is, in sum total, a complete movie that everyone who sees it will be talking about.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Boys Don't Cry, he would have paid...
Oscar® nomination level. Short of an avalanche of heavy duty A-list name flicks, blotting out our short term memories come the end of the year, Swank will see a nomination. She's made Cranky's best of list as have a passel of other names associated with this film.
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