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Moriarty's BOYS DON'T CRY Review (And A Word About This Week)

Hey, Everyone. "Moriarty" here. Before I get to the explanation as to why this is me writing an intro for my review, can I just say that I'm exhausted? Y'see, Harry's been in town for a few commando spy missions, and it's always a concentrated expenditure of energy when he's here. There's screening rooms to break into, film vaults to raid, development offices to search. We've been busy boys, and I'm burnt. I'm beat. I'm cashed, I'm killed, I'm dead, I'm thrashed, down for the count, without any further reserves. There's just no other way to say it. I have been moving pretty much nonstop since very early Tuesday morning. The henchmen took full advantage of this, throwing parties and trashing the joint while I was out. As soon as I get some of my thoughts on paper, the mass executions will commence.

Right now, though, this is the first time in three days I've had a chance to sit down in front of a computer, and it seems like there's just too much for me to write about. I hardly know where to start sorting it all out. I guess I'll move backwards, starting with what just happened earlier tonight, after I had dropped Harry off at LAX. I managed to wrangle my way in to one of the last pre-release screenings of Fox Searchlight's astonishing new film BOYS DON'T CRY, a strong, personal debut picture by director Kimberly Peirce that features one of the best performances I've seen this year from Hilary Swank as the doomed and troubled Brandon Teena.

This true story unfolded in a small town in Nebraska back in 1993. A girl from Lincoln named Teena Brandon reinvented herself, becoming a boy named Brandon Teena and moving to a new town, establishing a new life. The movie begins almost on the fly, with all of this in progress. There's the sense that Brandon is constantly in trouble with the law, with people who he "tricks." He dates girls, loves girls, and infuriates the locals. Brandon's cousin Lonnie in fed up with him, tired of being harrassed, and pressures Brandon to admit that he's a she, that she's a lesbian.

Brandon's reaction to that suggestion, his anger at being called a dyke, is the key to the film. Brandon's not playing a role. He is a boy. He knows it, simply can't be anything else. Swank is effortlessly convincing in the role, and even if you've seen her in other films, you won't recognize her here. Brandon resembles Matt Damon in some ways, with the same wide open Midwestern grin, the same angular bone structure. There's no reason anyone would question the Brandon we meet in this film. And,in fact, no one does.

When Lonnie throws Brandon out after another arrest, Brandon ends up at a small town bar where he meets Candace, played with a potato-faced sweetness by Alicia Goransen, who was billed as Lecey Goransen back in her days as one of rotating Beckys on ROSEANNE. She introduces Brandon around to her friends John (Peter Sarsgaard), Tom (Brendan Sexton III), and Kate (Alison Folland). Even though I recognized Goransen and Sexton (who I've liked since EMPIRE RECORDS and WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE... he's a funny mf), everyone feels like a discovery, and no one feels like an actor. These people feel real. There's absolutely no Hollywood glamor to these performances. They're textured, lived in, each and every one.

The person who makes the strongest impression on Brandon is Lana, brought to vivid life by Chloe Sevigny, who continues to prove herself one of the strangest, strongest actresses in her age range. For someone to be able to slide effortlessly from the world of GUMMO and KIDS to the suburban Jersey of TREE'S LOUNGE to the slick fantasy of THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO to the particularly lonely little corner of this film is amazing. Sevigny never lets on that she's acting, and she's called upon to be just as fearless as Swank, even if it is in a different way. She's like a piece of bruised fruit in this film, angry and sexy and terribly sad and little girl all at once.

Lana and Brandon are drawn to each other, and there's an awkward, touching courtship that's etched over the middle stretch of the picture. It's full of longing, dreams of being somewhere and somebody else. Both of them are similar, aching to escape the lives they were born into. The scenes between them as they fall in love are a reminder that frequently we don't choose who we love. We might have a picture in our heads of the "ideal" person, but that's not who we end up with. Instead, we're drawn to them for reasons we might not even fully understand. A smile or a fragrance or the pitch of someone's laugh or the line of their throat or the growl of their voice on the phone... there's a million things that go into attraction, and frequently, we are powerless against them. Brandon and Lana connect, and the love they fall into is thesweetest, simplest kind.

What makes things difficult is the world around them. First, there's Lana's life, which is complex, oppressive. John turns out to be anything but the good-natured good ol' boy he first appears to be. He's an ex-convict who's got a fairly firm grip on Lana and her mother, played through a boozy disconnected fog by Jeanetta Arnette. His jealousy towards Brandon is a constant, growing threat in the film, but the real depths of how dangerous he can be are kept under wraps until late in the game.

More importantly, there's Brandon himself. He constantly lies, spinning an entire history for himself out of words. He gives himself a mother in Hollywood, a sister who's a model. When he is in trouble financially, he steals a check from Candace and cashes it. He dodges bench warrants from old arrests and missed court dates. And through it all, he lies to himself. There's a moment where the simple biological process of menstruation interrupts Brandon's daily life, and when he stops to take care of it, there's an open hostility, even as he seems to block out the reality of what he's doing. It's fascinating, and it's heartbreaking.

When I was much younger, back at that age where we're defining the world around ourselves, figuring out what we can get away with, what we shouldn't get away with, and the like, I had a really close friend who, like myself, wanted to get into making movies. The two of us used to talk about ideas for movies, and we came up with a really good one that we decided we'd try to write. Now, when I say we were young... I mean we were kids. And we didn't know the first thing about writing a screenplay, much less getting it into production.

I knew a little, though, and what little I knew was enough to make me dangerous. I started playing my own private Hollywood game with my friend, talking to him about how we were going to sell the script to Hollywood and how we'd get an agent and how we'd be rich and we'd quit school and just go work on movies. And he played along with me. Hell, it was a great game. And as we pressed on playing it and finally finished the script, I just sort of let myself start embellishing the story more and more. I mean, it was such a great story. I could just imagine giving it to my friend's mom who had Genuine Hollywood Connections and having her recognize its absolute brilliance. I knew she'd have no choice but to slip it to her Powerful Hollywood Friends, who would also recognize its brilliance and forward it to the Key Decision Makers, who would promptly buy it. I could just imagine how that would be. They'd offer us a fat check and announce it in VARIETY. I told my friend all about it, how each step unfolded.

And, come to think of it, I never did mention the fact that it wasn't true.

I never set out to lie to him. I know I never made a conscious decision that I would convince him of it so thoroughly that he would tell all his friends at school (he went to a Catholic school, while I was in public school at that point). I remember that it was fun to tell the people at my school, and it was even more fun when they believed it enough to play along. Not just students, either. Teachers, too. And it was so much fun, seeing how excited they got at the idea of us actually making a movie.

And then someone thought to check the VARIETY. And talk to my friend's mother with the Genuine Hollywood Connections. And they came to the conclusion that my really fun Hollywood game was, in fact, a lie.

And, man... I remember the afternoon I went over to my friend's house. I was totally blown away that everyone had taken the whole thing so seriously. I hadn't really counted on how much people want to believe great news, or how invested people can become in you when you're having real, deep down fun, when you're playing at being that thing you want most to be. And I sure hadn't planned for that look in my friend's eyes. That hurt. That absolute core betrayal. I hadn't realized that he believed me because he needed to, and having that taken away from him was the worst thing I could have ever done.

He never really did talk to me again. I lost a few friends over that, and I hurt a lot of people I cared for. And it wasn't something I planned. It was the worst kind of life lesson, the kind that genuinely scarred a bit. I'm not proud of it, but I carry it close to me, and I like to think I learned from it, took some definition of myself from it. It's definitely left me with a low tolerance for liars, especially the malicious kind. To see Brandon Teena stumble through his particular web of lies didn't make me hate him, though... it made me pity him, and it makes the rest of the characters so much more believable. The people around Brandon are drawn to him by the force of his conviction. He believes what he's saying, and it practically lights him up from the inside. And when the truth asserts itself late in the picture, when Brandon drops the bomb on the people around him, it is devastating. There is a ripple effect of hurt and confusion and pain that ends up destroying lives, even ending some. It's wrenchingly, gaspingly sad. Everyone finds the grace notes to play in their performances all the way through the final moments of the film, and I dare any feeling human being to remain unmoved by film's end.

I hope the Academy has the vision to nominate Swank for her fearless work. There's a scene involving a police interrogation near the film's end that was taken directly from the actual police transcript of the incident that is just astonishing. It's a reminder of how close to the surface many people wear their fear or discomfort or hatred towards someone who's different. I was disheartened by how many childish giggles there were at the screening tonight during scenes involving Swank and Sevigny kissing. It doesn't bode well for how less sophisticated filmgoers will react to the film, which never flinches away from anything it has to say or show us. I hope people will open their minds and seek out this wonderful, powerful, special film and support this filmmaker's exceptional first effort.

I'm still so shaken up from the screening that I'm going to go work my way through the downstairs henchmen staff before I write any more. It should calm me down enough to organize my thoughts on David Twohy's PITCH BLACK. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 26, 1999, 12:28 a.m. CST

    a good film that could have been great

    by FastFreddy

    The story of Brandon Teena/ Teena Brandon was one that fascinated me when it came out about five years ago. The best coverage of it appeared in the Village Voice -- they don't have it on their website but if enough people request it maybe they'll post it. Anyway, if I hadn't read so much about the REAL Teena/Brandon I would love the movie without reservation. The film pulled its punches in one huge way: the film's Teena was a very sympathetic even loveable character where the real-life version was a career scam artist whose greatest deceit was passing as a man -- and doing very well at it. The real Teena/Brandon stole from just about everyone who had the misfortune to get within 10 feet of her. That's how she supported herself. A more realistic Teena/Brandon would pose a problem for the filmmaker -- how to make it clear that in spite of her parasitic lifestyle, she didn't deserve what she got. It would have made the film more complex and even independant distributors don't like too much complexity. Also, for a spirited discussion (by some articulate and ultra-PC hipsters) of which pronoun to use for Teena/Brandon got to www.villagevoice.com, type in "Brandon Teena" in their search engine and first read the piece by Amy Taubin then the angry letters which follow.

  • Oct. 26, 1999, 11:47 a.m. CST

    I've seen the movie....

    by 20th Century Fox

    And it was pretty good and EXTERMLY well acted...I just have one quiblle though...It seems that the first 2/3rds of the flim has no forward motion whatsoever....I'm not saying its bad its just that things dont move forward to the last 1/2 but the acting was amazing you relly felt those characters were real....

  • Oct. 26, 1999, 10:06 p.m. CST

    oh jesus please-us.

    by iolokus

    look, i've read about six universally good reviews of this movie. lesbianism is, yes, a prevalent issue but the movie doesn't get preachy or anything. as for "fight club" being homoerotic, i think that's a bunch of people who wish they were freud making something out of nothing. the movie is a banner for the american majority, white-straight-anglo-guys who don't have it as good as we think. the movie plays at their demasculinization, a homosexual subplot would be oxymoronic and destructive to the theme. plus, without giving any spoilers, any sexual connection would be somewhat masturbatory, wouldn't it? deceive, inveigle, etc, ~lolita iolokus