Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Boys Don't Cry

I've been overexposed to really awful lifetime movies. You know the kind, all about very serious injustices and it's all played in a forced, very serious and dour way. So, I expected Boys Don't Cry to be that in a slightly more professional way. So, I was very surprised by the opening shots.

In essence, holy crap, it's the early '90s!

I can't think of many other movies that capture a time and a place so perfectly. Before being told, you immediately know that it's somewhere in the early 90s, somewhere in the south, and the lead actor is somewhere between a man and a woman. Everything you need to know, all in a few shots, some music cues, and a few well chosen lines.

So, the story is about one Teena Brandon, or is that Brandon Teena? He - I know someone who knows a cross-dresser, and she tells me that you go with whatever gender they're running with at the time - is played by Hilary Swank, who surfaces every so often to play a fantastic role before disappearing into obscurity and questionable movies like The Core. This is one of Swanks fantastic roles, which she rightly won an Oscar for. If you didn't know better, you might think she's a man. Even if you do know better, you're still convinced.

As the story goes, apart from being a transgendered person, Teena is a bit reckless. He goes out drinking, tries to pick up women, steals cars, and generally lies. He's a very foolish man, and if he sort of sets up his own problems by gleefully pitching in with a crowd of criminals. When they find out his secret - due to his criminal activity - bad things happen.

The word tragedy gets overused, describing anything that is generally a bummer. This, however, is a tragedy in the accurate sense of the term. Teena's flaws are what bring him down at the end. I'm not counting his being transgendered, but merely the company he keeps and the activities he enjoys. If he would have been more selective of his friends, wouldn't have hung out with the crowd he did, and wouldn't have done criminal acts, he might be around today. He may have even saved up for the sex change he always wanted and became a real boy. But his foolishness is, in part, what caused his problems. Yes, there's a plea for tolerance hidden in here, and there's a message about homophobia being a scurge. But most of all, the message is don't be an idiot and hang out with assholes. There are signs from when we first meet them that Teena's friends are bad news, and that he's living dangerously by keeping his secret from them and hanging around so close. He would have ended up in serious trouble if he was actually a man, just by the nature of his friends and his tendency to lie, though lets face it, it likely would not have been as bad as it wound up being.

Given the brutal nature of the crimes committed to Teena, I can't say he deserved what happened, nobody would. The point is that we can see it coming. From the first frame, we know trouble will visit young Teena soon. The thing that carries the movie is that Teena himself doesn't see it. He keeps thinking that he can somehow outsmart his own bad decision making and questionable friends. We know, as the audience, he can't. In a just world, he might have had a few jail sentences, but there wasn't any way he would make it out of life without having some severe problems.

I have to say this film impressed me, just by not being what I thought it would be. I thought, like too many of these films, it would be about the infinite sadness of being sexually confused in a place that doesn't allow it. In a sense, it kind of is, but more than anything it captures a time and a place. In the end, it's a bad time, and a bad place, but for a while you can almost convince yourself that it's the right place to be, just like Teena did. Unlike Teena, however, we can see that it can't end well, and it's a shame he never did.

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