Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
Hilary Swank began her life as a film actress in 1992's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" and in the ABC series "Camp Wilder". Two years later, she became "The Next Karate Kid". By 1996, she was one of the many women who drifted through Steve (Ian Ziering) Sanders' life on "B.H. 90210" and she appeared in two more films, "Kounterfeit" and "Sometimes They Come Back....Again". Swank had the fitful, gun-and-coast career of many young actresses and it might have gone on that way until casting directors began yelling for a young Hilary Swank. But then Swank went after the role of Brandon Teena in "Boys Don't Cry" and she played it with the sort of no-holds-barred passion that wins Academy Awards. I'm not handicapping the next Oscar race, I'm lust saying that Swank deserves to win in the year 2000 every bit as much as Bette Davis deserved to win in the year 1935 for her stunning work as Mildred Rogers in "Of Human Bondage". Interestingly, Mildred is a female character based on a male youth Somerset Maugham had pined for as a young man: Maugham never could recall the inspiration for Mildred without crying.
Brandon Teena is a male character invented by a young girl named Teena Brandon. Being Brandon meant the ultimate in pain and suffering for Teena, but her scattiness about every other aspect of her life was matched by her determination to live and love as a gentleman. For Swank to play this consummate role player meant stripping away every trace of her conventional prettiness. Brandon's small stature disarmed both sexes in Falls City, Nebraska, but of all the friends she could have chosen in her new identity, why two thugs like John Lotter and Thomas Nissen who had already done hard time and were clearly living in a dark emotional landscape inhabited by no one but themselves? Everything about Lotter and Nissen (sharply etched by Peter Sarsgaard and Brendan Sexton III), shrieks, "Get out of town, Kid" but Brandon disregards the obvious in the pursuit of love and happiness. Brandon hopes to find both with Lana Tisdel, played to perfection by Chloe Sevigny. Her dream of making a living as a karaoke singer in Memphis with Brandon as her manager is as saturated with purple haze as she is.
In another time and/or place, Brandon might have led a productive, rewarding life like, say, musician Billy Tipton. But Tipton had every detail of her act together and Brandon had none of the above. Writer/director Kimberly Peirce goes for true fictions, although, like "Brandon Teena Story" documentarians Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottr, Peirce conducted extensive research and did hours of interviews. When Peirce felt that what she was seeing and hearing were deceptions and evasions, she sought her own version of the truth as all filmmakers do. Particularly in the denouement, there is revisionism-most-operatic as well as glaring factual omissions. One homicide victim is entirely left out of the narrative, ditto John Lotter's sister Michelle, who remained a close friend of Brandon, in spite John's jealous hatred of Lana's new love. But some of Brandon's recorded testimony is delivered verbatim and the most achingly real scene of all may be the sequence when Brandon's battered body is examined by a policewoman. It is the body of a child grown old overnight and Peirce, Swank, Sevigny, Sarsgaard and Sexton deserve full marks for bringing such shimmering honesty to this sad, ugly story of dreams that shattered on impact in America's heartland.
© 1999 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/6/99
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