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What It Means To Be Male - Film Review

Boys Don't Cry
Rialto Cinema
Jervois Quay & Cable St
Now showing

Boys Don't Cry is the dramatisation of the bizarre life and death of Teena Brandon, an American transsexual who was murdered in 1993. An amazing story of lies and deception, Brandon taped her breasts down, wore a dildo and successfully passed herself off as male to a series of girlfriends and police.

With the heavy task of balancing real life facts against film drama, the role of Teena is an almost impossible piece of casting. Hilary Swank's Teena follows her real life counterpart; she crops her hair, stuffs socks down her jeans and wears loose clothing, but it's hard to imagine that she would really have passed for a man.

Swank makes a reasonable job of the role (as far as is humanly possible) but the movie is really about Brandon's girlfriend Lana (Chloe Sevigny), and is driven through to it's gruesome and shocking conclusion by a wonderful performance by the young actress.

The movie opens with Teena being chased back to her trailer by several angry pursuers. This a constant theme is Teena's life; her endless desire for a good time/distraction fatally linked with her nose for trouble.

She wakes up one morning in Fall City, Nebraska, a genuine heartland of America small town. Attempting to fit in with a group of local redneck youths, Teena smokes, drinks and party's hard. At the same time, she/he successfully woos Lana, who senses an escape out of Falls City, and ironically, an alternative to the local masculinity Teena is trying to cultivate.

Swank's Teena/Brandon is an eccentric oddball caught up in web of self-deceit, but ultimately her motivations remain a mystery. The strain of admitting she's female is a telling psychological clue, but no real inner life or sense of history unravels on screen. In trying to join 'the gang' she eventually gets raped, beaten up and killed, but this seems as much an excuse for pent-up sexuality and small town rage as anything else.

Sevigny plays Lara with a compelling mix of youth, experience and instinct. When Brandon's true sex becomes apparent she remains loyal to him, she lies to her family and friends and finds herself preparing to run away with Brandon when he is killed. When Brandon arrives for them to leave she is overwhelmed by wordless unease, suddenly aware that she is the central object at the core of all the characters frustrations.

The final third of the movie is a tense grinding roll towards the inevitable, it's a true story and we know how it's all going to end. Without Sevigny it's hard to imagine this would have been so interesting, but she seems to be acting on her feet, constantly balancing her passion for Brandon with the urgent need to avoid the imminent threat of violence.

Overall Boys Don't Cry is worth a look, if only for Sevigny who turns in one of the best performances by an American actress for years. A more experienced director might have cultivated a greater cinematic sense of the vast banality of small town America, but the doomed-to-be-fleeting romantic aura around the two leads is captured well by director Katherine Peirce.

Pitched closer to the Indie rather than Hollywood market, it's interesting to note how a movie with such complex gender themes has crossed over to a mainstream audience. Perhaps that phenomenon is best explained by the time old adage of fact being stranger than fiction.

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