Combustible Celluloid
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With: Hilary Swank, Chloë Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard, Brendan Sexton III, Alison Folland, Alicia Goranson, Jeanetta Arnette, Rob Campbell, Matt McGrath
Written by: Kimberly Peirce, Andy Bienen
Directed by: Kimberly Peirce
MPAA Rating: R for violence including an intense brutal rape scene, sexuality, language and drug use
Running Time: 118
Date: 09/02/1999

Boys Don't Cry (1999)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Feign Man

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One of the strongest feature directorial debuts of the year, Kimberly Peirce's Boys Don't Cry captures a specific flavor of a time and place that reminded me of no less than Drugstore Cowboy (1989) or Robert Altman at his best. Still, praise like that will not make this grim film any easier to sell to mainstream audiences.

Boys Don't Cry tells the tragic true story of Brandon Teena (played by Hilary Swank in a performance that's already receiving Oscar buzz). Brandon is really a girl who pretends to be a boy. He gets his hair cut short, dresses in male clothes, travels to a new town and falls in with a group of new friends. These friends are your typical backwoods beer-drinking, barroom-brawling, truck-driving creeps, led by John (Peter Sarsgaard) and Tom (Brendan Sexton III). Brandon falls head over heels for Lana (played by the great Chloe Sevingny, one of our very best actresses from films like Kids, Trees Lounge, Gummo, and The Last Days of Disco). Unfortunately, John, the most dangerous of the rednecks, is also in love with Lana. Trouble inevitably comes when Brandon's secret becomes impossible to keep.

The reason Boys Don't Cry works so well is that we find ourselves really in the moment. Of course Brandon will be found out at some point. But we're not thinking ahead in that way. The movie is so alive that there is only the right now. Director Peirce manages to make every moment seem genuine without dragging in cliches. On top of that, she adds stylistic flourishes like sped-up lights shooting by on the distant highways. So Boys Don't Cry is not just cinematic realism, it's a hybrid of everything that makes cinema such an exciting medium.

I won't kid you. Boys Don't Cry is a dark film. But it's also joyous and alive for most of its running time. If you don't fall into the "mainstream audience" category, it's a must-see.

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